Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Bahrain International Circuit, 2021

Red Bull on top in first practice as Verstappen leads Bottas and Norris

2021 Bahrain Grand Prix first practice

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Red Bull’s Max Verstappen topped the first free practice session of the 2021 Formula 1 season at the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Alpine was the first team to head out on track, but it was purely using its track time for test runs. Reigning champion Lewis Hamilton laid down the first real indication of pace with a 1’32.844 lap in his Mercedes.

His team mate Valtteri Bottas followed him out on soft tyres and went a tenth of a second faster, but after that it was largely a dispute between Hamilton and Verstappen for first place on the timesheet.

Friday’s free practice sessions have been reduced from 90 minutes each to 60 this year. Despite having less time to run their cars it still took 20 minutes before Haas sent its two rookies Nikita Mazepin and Mick Schumacher out of the pits.

Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi was also late to head out, and he then went against the trend the rest of the grid was following by completing several runs on Pirelli’s medium compound tyres.

In contrast Mercedes used several sets of the soft tyre, with Hamilton on top at the halfway point of the session with a 1’32.214.

As the track temperature dropped, more drivers opted to go out for flying laps. McLaren’s Lando Norris knocked Hamilton off top spot by being the first driver to lap sub-1’32. Now also with Mercedes power behind him, Norris was rapid down the straights all session.

Bottas put Mercedes back in first place with 10 minutes to go, before Verstappen came through in the final five minutes with a rapid 1’31.394 that put him almost three-tenths of a second clear.

Hamilton made a late improvement to go fourth, and Charles Leclerc ensured Ferrari engines were represented in the top five by going fifth fastest with a 1’31.993.

Red Bull newcomer Sergio Perez went sixth at the chequered flag, ahead of AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly, Carlos Sainz Jnr in the second Ferrari, McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo and Giovinazzi after he eventually switched to soft tyres.

His team mate Kimi Raikkonen was 11th fastest as the team used a split strategy, while Sebastian Vettel’s highly anticipated start to life as an Aston Martin driver began with a low-key 12th place. Yuki Tsunoda was the top rookie in 14th, but was frustrated by traffic late in the session.

The Alpine, Willians and Haas drivers propped up the times sheet, who were all more than two seconds off the pace.

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2021 Bahrain Grand Prix first practice result

Pos.No.DriverCarBest lapGapLaps
133Max VerstappenRed Bull-Honda1’31.39412
277Valtteri BottasMercedes1’31.6920.29817
34Lando NorrisMcLaren-Mercedes1’31.8970.50320
444Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’31.9210.52715
516Charles LeclercFerrari1’31.9930.59914
611Sergio PerezRed Bull-Honda1’32.0710.67715
710Pierre GaslyAlphaTauri-Honda1’32.1950.80123
855Carlos Sainz JnrFerrari1’32.3660.97215
93Daniel RicciardoMcLaren-Mercedes1’32.4341.04020
1099Antonio GiovinazziAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’32.7861.39216
117Kimi RaikkonenAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’33.1341.74018
125Sebastian VettelAston Martin-Mercedes1’33.1571.76321
1318Lance StrollAston Martin-Mercedes1’33.2331.83920
1422Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri-Honda1’33.3291.93521
1531Esteban OconAlpine-Renault1’33.5282.13420
1614Fernando AlonsoAlpine-Renault1’33.8722.47818
1763George RussellWilliams-Mercedes1’34.1272.73322
186Nicholas LatifiWilliams-Mercedes1’34.3402.94622
1947Mick SchumacherHaas-Ferrari1’34.5013.10716
209Nikita MazepinHaas-Ferrari1’34.9753.58116

First practice visual gaps

Max Verstappen – 1’31.394

+0.298 Valtteri Bottas – 1’31.692

+0.503 Lando Norris – 1’31.897

+0.527 Lewis Hamilton – 1’31.921

+0.599 Charles Leclerc – 1’31.993

+0.677 Sergio Perez – 1’32.071

+0.801 Pierre Gasly – 1’32.195

+0.972 Carlos Sainz Jnr – 1’32.366

+1.040 Daniel Ricciardo – 1’32.434

+1.392 Antonio Giovinazzi – 1’32.786

+1.740 Kimi Raikkonen – 1’33.134

+1.763 Sebastian Vettel – 1’33.157

+1.839 Lance Stroll – 1’33.233

+1.935 Yuki Tsunoda – 1’33.329

+2.134 Esteban Ocon – 1’33.528

+2.478 Fernando Alonso – 1’33.872

+2.733 George Russell – 1’34.127

+2.946 Nicholas Latifi – 1’34.340

+3.107 Mick Schumacher – 1’34.501

+3.581 Nikita Mazepin – 1’34.975

Drivers more then ten seconds off the pace omitted.

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2021 Bahrain Grand Prix

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Author information

Elliot Wood
Often found in junior single-seater paddocks around Europe doing journalism and television commentary, or dabbling in teaching Photography back in the UK. Currently based...

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39 comments on “Red Bull on top in first practice as Verstappen leads Bottas and Norris”

  1. I really like the change to one hour sessions. Much condensed action. Now drop Friday and let only a practice session on Saturday, before qualifying. Less predictability on Sunday, better action. Screw off super-ultra-mega-qualifying and other NASCAR-ish gimmicks!

    1. @jlb Same here. More than a handful of drivers immediately went on track once green light appeared. I’d be okay with a single practice session, but for the Middle East, having FP2 as the only one would be better because of its timing.

    2. I wonder if fans on track would agree on this.. Fans wanting to take videos and pictures may need to go around quicker…

    3. as a regular attender, I cannot agree with this. Fridays are (were) a joy to attend, plenty of track time, testing atmosphere, good chance to see action from different spots. We already have qualys and races for electric, fast-paced packed action.
      I get your point. But it’s like asking a football match to last 30 minutes instead of 90, because that way you pack all the action and the tension. Attending fans will not love it

      1. Oh.I wanted push the reply button and reported your comment instead…

        Back to topic…I kind of agree with you. It was nice to see a lot of cars out very early and going for hot laps even. It was almost like the Saturday practices that we were used to know. But I definitely missed a little bit of the typical analytical approach when teams tried different things and did long and semi long runs. Maybe we’ll see them this afternoon.
        It was also quite nice when the commentators have time to explain some technical aspects in detail and talk about the smaller teams as well.

        1. Oh.I wanted push the reply button and reported your comment instead…

          That report button is just the worst UX hope racefans fix it. Zero confirmation is completely amateur hour and having it right next to the reply button is really bad. You’d think there was zero design work involved.

    4. Yes, Silverstone and the like will be glad not to have 60,000 attending on a Friday. Saves having to count all that extra revenue.

      1. And this rather exposes the problem with trying to balance what those watching on TV and those at the track want.

        It’s all well and good wanting to cut back to ‘spice things up’ for the TV audience, but it ruins the experience for those at the track. Cutting the income for the track doesn’t exactly help keeping the sorts of venues that people want either – no surprise if the only venues left are those with the richest benefactors…

        Reply moderated
  2. Please God let McLaren’s pace be genuine!

    Please, please, pleeeeeeease!!!

    1. The team is back to the front. Finally after 9 tough years.

    2. @sonnycrockett

      They genuinely seem in the fight for 3rd in the WCC with Ferrari. I expect Aston to join that party as well once they’ve figured out their car better.

    3. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
      26th March 2021, 15:57

      @sonnycrockett why? why? why? :-)

  3. What is it with Bahrain being abnormally warm for this time of year? The mid-30s aren’t a regular feature in March.

    1. Climate change.

  4. Barry Bens (@barryfromdownunder)
    26th March 2021, 13:01

    Mercedes ‘bagging as usual. Watch them be P1 and P2 tomorrow and on sunday again. Can’t wait for the good old Lewis and Toto speech afterwards. “We’ve worked around the clock to fix our issues and we want to thank everyone for their hard work. We thought we were really in trouble but this effort has put us back in the ‘fight’.”

    Afterwards all the Mercedes-fanboys will claim that it is entirely possible for a team such as Mercedes to fix everything in a mere two weeks time even when there are spending limits and token limits.

    I’d like to be wrong, but after the last 7 years, it’s just become impossible to believe anything that comes out of the mouth of Lewis and Toto.

    Reply moderated
  5. Verstappen fastest gives me hope for a tighter fight at the front but I dunno… I still feel like when it matters Mercedes is going to just stomp over everyone.

    1. If you know he made a little mistake in the last sector…… We will see in the second pratice that is more the same time as Qualiflier and race times.

  6. Alpine not looking great it has to be said. Maybe moving the centre of mass to the top of the car wasn’t such a good idea after all. Hmmm.

    1. @john-h they didn’t do any performance runs and were just collecting data all session. Can’t read anything into the first practice of the season.

      1. Ah thanks @tflb, I didn’t see the session (none of that for me this season anymore due to paywall!) so good to hear they didn’t do any quick runs. I hope I’m wrong, would like to see Fernando up there.

    2. I don’t think any of these times are particularly meaningful given the ambient temperatures.

      I know what you mean about whatever they put in the airbox area raising the centre of gravity, but the c. of g. will still be nowhere near the top of the car.

    3. @john-h

      The centre of gravity moving upwards was always a bad idea… by Alpine’s own admittance it was a ‘technical compromise’ to get slimmer side pods (which weren’t any slimmer than competitors anyway) .

      I could have bet good money in the pre season itself that Alpine will be the disaster of the season. No engine improvements… a car with aero concepts of the 70s …and no real team principal, but instead two roles with confusing ownership on responsibilities. In short, they’ve got the perfect recipe for disaster this season.

      It’s obviously too early to tell.. but I have a gut feeling that as an Alonso fan, this is going to be as painful a season to watch as 2015 – 2017.

      1. @todfod But for me I think ‘disaster’ is heavy handed only in the sense that I don’t think they had any illusions of doing much this year anyway. At least, the impression I got from things FA said last year was that it is much more about next year for him than this year, when it should be a much more driver vs. driver series. I’m going by an assumption that this year is more about pu work and putting their real efforts into next year’s car. Of course it is still going to be a blast to watch FA this year, but I’m far more stoked for him for next year, and have never expected Alpine to make any big waves with this B car. I haven’t paid any attention to what they have done to raise their cog, but I bet it’s just an experiment that they can easily reverse for next year if they deem that prudent, and if indeed that is a mistake they have made, rather than an armchair speculation that it is.

        1. @robbie I’m not sure why Alpine would be any more competitive next year. They’ve had a clear budget advantage over everyone other than the big 3 teams, and yet have still underperformed. Now with the budget cap, I’d expect them to go backwards, if anything. They still haven’t built a competitive power unit, they still have yet to build a good chassis, I don’t expect much from them. Only thing that might work for them is if they do a Haas and focus entirely on 2022, and somehow end up doing a Brawn GP/Red Bull in 2009. I highly doubt it though, as they don’t have a Ross Brawn or an Adrian Newey leading the technical team.

          1. @mashiat That’s as fair a speculation as any, but for now they certainly know they are nowhere with their current offering, and so as many inside and outside hope, perhaps they will freeze their best pu ever ahead of next year, and nail the wholly different car, and with FA in the seat have some really exciting times of it. Sure I get that where they are coming from they have a lot to prove, but so be it…that’s just their lot in life right now and all they can do is put their noses to the grindstone and try their best. I agree with you that budget wise, or to me more importantly works factory setting wise, they should have the upper hand on more teams than they have been or currently seem to.

        2. @robbie

          You’re right… ‘disaster’ is a speculative word. I would describe Renault’s 2019 season as a ‘disaster’ , keeping in mind they are one of only three constructors on the grid and they have, arguably, the largest or second largest midfield budget.

          I see 2021 as a bit of a 2019. Hence, I termed it as ‘disaster’. What happens in 2022 is entirely unknown.. but I would think a team carrying good momentum from 2021 to 2022 should have an advantage. I just don’t see that happening for them this season.

          1. @todfod As you say next year is an unknown, especially with the cars. The pus I would think much less so. So while I agree it doesn’t appear so far that Alpine will carry much momentum into next year, I would argue that they ‘only’ need to carry a good pu into next year if they can pull that off, for the cars are going to be so different there won’t be the same ability to opine that someone’s good B car this year is going to equate to a good wholly different ground effects car next year.

            Other than the pus I see next year as a big reset, or at least a big chance for one from teams such as Alpine that have been stuck in this particular chapter. At least, no matter what you and I think, I think it safe to say Alpine and FA are stoked at having their hands forced to get out of these cars and on to a clean page and the potential that brings to get unstuck.

          2. @robbie

            Agree that PUs are the most crucial element for next season, but they’ve also made lesser progress on their pus over the winter than their competitors. Which is why I would call it a disaster.

  7. I know it’s just FP1 .. but I think this correlates well to a bit of the pecking order we expected after pre season testing.
    Red Bull and Mercedes tight at top, with Mclaren and Ferrari just behind. Alpha looking good as well, and eventually so should Racing point with a bit more mileage.

    Alpine so far seems rubbish.. which is expected given that there is little to no improvement on the engine front and they have an obese chassis. Alfa Romeo is looking quicker than Alpine currently. And at the back we have Haas and Williams.

    Reply moderated
  8. Max is still a 2,5 seconds of the Wintertest pace so this doesn’t say much imo.

  9. The top speeds between the top 4 car in this session is quite interesting (fastest lap):
    NOR: FL(start) 294 kph – S1 244 kph – S2 270 kph – S3(finish) 295 kph
    LEC: FL(start) 287 kph – S1 240 kph – S2 263 kph – S3(finish) 283 kph
    VER: FL(start) 290 kph – S1 241 kph – S2 268 kph – S3(finish) 283 kph
    BOT: FL(start) 287 kph – S1 238 kph – S2 264 kph – S3(finish) 287 kph
    Hamilton had actually slightly better top speeds during his lap, but Bottas set the faster time. Hamilton’s speeds: 288 – 239 – 266 – 287

    Judging by these speeds, I’d say McLaren ran more powerful engine modes than the other three teams. I mean they’re 12 kph faster than the RB over the finish line! That’s not real, is it?! Unless the McLaren is far more aerodinamically efficient than the RB or the Mercedes PU has once again made a massive step in performance.

    RB and Mercedes are where they were expected to be, but Ferrari is a little bit of a surprise. Despite being well down on top speed compared to the McLaren (slower through all timing beams), Leclerc was just 0.1 behind Norris. The Ferrari went even a tenth quicker than the McLaren through S3 (which is just 2 slow corners and 1.5 straights), despite loosing 12 kph to the McLaren over the fiinish line.
    Seems like Ferrari is not as far off the pace as many thought after testing. Judging by their top speeds and sector times, Ferrari seem to be somewhere between 0.5-0.8 slower than the pace-setting RB. Certainly a step forward compared to last season, even if it’s still not enough to finish regularily on the podium.

    1. @srga91 Might just be down to how much downforce Mac was running (ie. less) and not necessarily aero efficiencies or power modes or the pu making a massive step in performance, but of course thats just speculation on my part.

      1. @robbie
        Considering Norris was just 0.2 slower than Verstappen through S2, I doubt their downforce levels were vastly different. Had that been the case, Norris would’ve lost more time to Verstappen through the corners in S2, but he didn’t really.
        Let’s see what happens in FP2.

        1. @srga91 For sure but just saying you are using a pretty small sample size experiment wise to come to your conclusion. We don’t know what more Max had in him on that lap at that time, nor Norris for that matter. What were their fuel loads etc etc? Tomorrow will be the apples to apples comparison of them in clean air, and then Sunday will be the even more real comparison of how they do in dirty air on full fuel etc etc when it is for the points.

  10. The results of FP1 pretty much confirm what we expected after testing:
    – RB holding a slight advantage over Mercedes
    – McLaren & Alpha Tauri seem to have a good package
    – Ferrari still in the midfield (albeit slightly more competitive than expected, they might be heading the battle for P3)
    – Aston Martin and Alpine struggling towards the back of the midfield
    – Alfa Romeo have closed the gap to the midfield (maybe even ahead of AM & Alpine)
    – Williams in the middle of nowhere between midfield & Mhaasepin Racing
    – Haas at the back

    Let’s see what FP2 has to offer. Coniditions will be far more representative in terms of qualy pace and give us more of an idea what to expect for tomorrow.

    1. @srga91 I don’t entirely disagree, but the drivers and teams will say, and have been saying, that it will only be after tomorrow’s qualifying that it will be an apples to apples comparison amongst them and we’ll really have a solid idea of where they sit. And even then that will just be at this track and then we’ll see if some cars like other types of tracks better.

      But I think we can at least be confident in saying that today we are seeing the iterations of cars that they have brought to race with and they may have different wings etc than they tested a few weeks ago. Sure some teams may still change something given what they have learned so far today and for FP2, but I think it is pretty safe to say they must be running pretty much what we’ll see tomorrow and Sunday in terms of wings etc.

  11. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
    26th March 2021, 16:01

    Interesting how on the teams with new drivers, the driver who was there last year did better on average including Norris vs Ricciardo, Leclerc vs Sainz, Verstappen vs Perez, Ocon vs Alonso, Gasly vs Tsunoda – 5 for 5 and some big names there. Curious if this will change in qualifying tomorrow.

    1. @freelittlebirds F1 is supposed to be hard, or at least we should want it so. I fully expected this to happen, and if it does change on Saturday with the pairings you have cited I would consider those ‘upsets’ as will I’m sure many fans and pundits. It should take drivers new to their respective teams, despite their experience in F1, some time to learn their cars and their teams, while the teams learn about them. Otherwise F1 is too easy.

      1. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
        27th March 2021, 12:17

        @Robbie well, 4 of those drivers have been driving in F1 for a while so it’s a matter of driving a different car and I have no doubt that takes some adjustment but as we’ve seen in the past, not as much as we believe. Tsunoda is the only rookie here.

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