Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Bahrain International Circuit, 2022

Mercedes look less of a threat to Red Bull than Ferrari after Friday practice

2022 Bahrain Grand Prix Friday practice analysis

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When Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and George Russell offered a pessimistic prediction of their performance ahead of the first day of practice for the Bahrain Grand Prix, Max Verstappen refused to buy what his rivals were selling.

However, after the chequered flag had flown at the end of the first Friday of this longest-ever season, even the world champion would likely accept in private that the team that has dominated Formula 1 for the best part of a decade are now less of a threat to his title defence than Ferrari. At least for this first round of the season.

Fresh from the cockpit of the W13 after his first day’s work as an official Mercedes race driver, Hamilton judged the deficit his new team lacked compared to their rivals as almost a second slower than Red Bull and over half a second behind the seemingly resurgent Scuderia. And the times from Friday’s evening running appears to back up Russell’s assessment.

Being one of the four grands prix to be held under lights this season, the Bahrain Grand Prix has a quirk where only the second practice is held under representative conditions of the race itself. It was no surprise to see almost every team bar McLaren take to the track early in the evening on medium tyres to see how the rubber fared around the far cooler track than the afternoon.

It did not take long for the field to switch to soft tyres for qualifying simulation runs, and that is where Red Bull’s raw performance was demonstrated for the first time. Verstappen’s 1’31.936 at his first attempt out of the garage was 0.087s quicker than Charles Leclerc, who was the closest to the world champion in the Ferrari.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Bahrain International Circuit, 2022
Gallery: 2022 Bahrain Grand Prix practice in pictures
However, as Leclerc explained, there was reason to believe that there was more one lap pace to be drawn out from the shapely F1-75 ahead of tomorrow. “We did the fast lap on the second lap so I think there’s a bit of margin still,” Leclerc explained. “So it’s not looking too bad.

“Today went well, we tested a lot of things, we’ve changed quite a bit the car compared to where we started this morning and all the changes that we’ve done made us progress. So we need to do the same step for tomorrow and hopefully we’ll have a car to fight.”

Russell’s 1’32.5 may have appeared to almost match Carlos Sainz Jnr for lap time, but the Ferrari driver admitted that he had not nailed the set-up for his qualifying simulation and had put in a scruffy lap on his way to the third fastest time of the day.

But it was the race simulations where the Red Bull, especially in the hands of Verstappen, looked the most impressive. Over a nine-lap stint on the soft tyres in the final 30 minutes of the session, Verstappen ticked off an impressive run where he never fell out of the 1’37s. Comparatively, Russell’s own long-run saw him average around a second off the pace of the Red Bull driver on the same compound, while Hamilton was a touch slower than his team mate on the mediums over his 10-lap run.

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Mercedes trackside engineering director, Andrew Shovlin, was frank in his analysis of the team’s potential pace and how likely they might be able to claw back the gap by Sunday.

Mercedes say they have a few tenths in hand, but no more
“In terms of pace, we have a significant gap to Ferrari and Red Bull, especially Max on the long run,” said Shovlin.

“There are some relatively easy gains we might be able to make overnight with the balance but we’re not going to find more than a few tenths. More important is that we keep learning as we don’t seem to have understood the bouncing as well as some of the others, it may also be that we’re lacking a bit of car pace.

“So, we’re expecting a tough couple of days where we need to focus on damage limitation but also continuing to experiment to see if we can find a better place to run the car.”

Russell said he was concerned about the threat from the Alfa Romeos and AlphaTauris – though the latter lost their way badly in the cool evening after flying in the afternoon warmth. He might add Alpine to that list, Fernando Alonso having put his A522 in a promising fifth. Who knows how far they have pushed that unique and heavily revised Renault power unit so far.

Arriving at the circuit with brand new 18-inch wheels for the first time at a grand prix weekend, Pirelli could not be sure what kind of strategies teams might attempt for the race. However, after Friday’s running, Pirelli’s Mario Isola said there was a much clearer picture about the kind of race teams can expect on Sunday.

“We didn’t find any big difference compared to the test,” Isola said. “We didn’t find any graining, despite the cold temperatures.

Alonso could be a dark horse in upgraded Alpine
“The delta lap time… is between 1.2 seconds between medium and soft and one second between hard and medium. Probably a two-stop strategy is the quickest on paper – using the medium and the soft.” Drivers will not go into qualifying with one eye on their race strategy this year, as the rule forcing those who reach Q3 to start on their used tyres from Q2 has been scrapped.

Looking like he might be best placed to begin his title defence with a win this weekend, at least going by the earliest indication, Verstappen admits that his prospects are “looking good” so far, but is remaining cautious until everyone reveals their hand during qualifying.

“You can see Ferrari is pushing hard and they’re very close, but that’s very exciting as well,” Verstappen said. “We have to wait and see a little bit also with engine modes tomorrow from all the teams to really see where you are.”

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Combined practice times

PosDriverCarFP1FP2Total laps
1Max VerstappenRed Bull1’34.7421’31.93642
2Charles LeclercFerrari1’34.5571’32.02342
3Carlos Sainz JnrFerrari1’34.6111’32.52045
4George RussellMercedes1’34.6291’32.52948
5Fernando AlonsoAlpine-Renault1’35.0001’32.87738
6Valtteri BottasAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’32.95132
7Sergio PerezRed Bull1’35.0501’32.95843
8Mick SchumacherHaas-Ferrari1’36.5361’33.08547
9Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’34.9431’33.14440
10Kevin MagnussenHaas-Ferrari1’36.8041’33.18344
11Lando NorrisMcLaren-Mercedes1’36.3041’33.28049
12Esteban OconAlpine-Renault1’35.1511’33.36040
13Pierre GaslyAlphaTauri-Red Bull1’34.1931’33.62147
14Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri-Red Bull1’35.0281’33.78946
15Zhou GuanyuAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’35.0531’33.95347
16Lance StrollAston Martin-Mercedes1’34.8141’33.95847
17Nico HulkenbergAston Martin-Mercedes1’35.8151’34.06151
18Daniel RicciardoMcLaren-Mercedes1’36.4021’34.16632
19Nicholas LatifiWilliams-Mercedes1’35.6441’34.48643
20Alexander AlbonWilliams-Mercedes1’35.9231’34.73539

Teams’ progress vs 2021

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2022 Bahrain Grand Prix

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Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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14 comments on “Mercedes look less of a threat to Red Bull than Ferrari after Friday practice”

  1. “Fresh from the cockpit of the W13 after his first day’s work as an official Mercedes race driver, Hamilton judged…” – I wonder where he has been driving the last nine years?

    1. Well, this season is a new beginning. Quite literally it seems… :)

    2. Well Hamilton is long gone they now have Hamilton-Larbalestier

    3. RocketTankski
      19th March 2022, 8:34

      Maybe he was working as a temp until this weekend. Zero hour contracts and all that.

  2. I am head scratching this: how are Mercedes competitive in the middle sector, Russell was actually faster than Verstappen and Hamilton only one tenth slower, but losing 8 tenths in the first sector and 3 tenths in the last sector, all having the least amount of corners. How do you lose 8 tenths in a 30 second sector with just 4 corners? This can’t be just sandbagging with the engine. If it is, then those are the heaviest sandbags I have ever lifted.

    1. Anon A. Mouse
      18th March 2022, 23:55

      Likely a result of lifting when the porpoising occurs on the straights. At times it would start nearly halfway down the start/finish straight. Speeds in S2 are low enough that the car works well enough for a good sector, although they’re dealing with a lot of sliding late in the cornering phase.

    2. @krichelle
      It could be indeed that Mercedes has to lift earlier on the straights (in particular the back straight before T14), as Anon A. Mouse suggests. Russell’s top speeds were very different in various parts of the track. He was 8 kph down at the end of the start/finish straight and 12 kph down before T14 compared to Verstappen (also seemed to lift a lot earlier than Verstappen and Leclerc), but was just as fast on the straights before T4 and also T11.
      Part of it is certainly down to engine mode, as McLaren and Aston Martin were also struggling for pace and straightline speed. But I doubt it’s worth more than 0.2-0.3 sec compared to Ferrari & RB.
      Time will tell how competitive Mercedes really are here, but I’m not overly optimistic for them. Last year they looked a whole lot more competitive after Friday practice, but still missed pole by a couple of tenths.

      1. Actually it was 4 tenths in the first quali.

  3. I know Mclaren don’t usually show their hand on Fridays, but they seem to be seriously at the back end of the midfield.

    So much for everyone talking them up as being in contention.

    They and Mercedes seem to be to ones with the most work to do.

    Disappointing start for Williams too.

    1. @dbradock, McLaren is being affected by the brake problems they encountered last week. Even if the car is fast, that I believe it is, they are some steps behind as they couldn’t progress as much as they wanted in last week’s testing and now are using just an interim fix for the brakes. So they are compromised but I expect them to recover and in a couple of races time, to be much closer to the front of the field.
      What is curious though is that Mercedes engined teams seem to be closer to the back, except for Mercedes itself… Very early days of course, as usual things might change a lot in the next races, or even in this race itself, and it is likely that different tracks and track conditions (such as temperature) will affect the running order.

  4. “Fresh from the cockpit of the W13 after his first day’s work as an official Mercedes race driver, Hamilton judged the deficit his new team lacked compared to their rivals as almost a second slower than Red Bull and over half a second behind the seemingly resurgent Scuderia. And the times from Friday’s evening running appears to back up Russell’s assessment.”

    You guys really need to proof read before publishing

    1. Mistakes like these are actually funny though, you can imagine hamilton being asked how his first ever day at mercedes was!

  5. Now if you could buy this Mercedes’ at the dealer you would return it the same day. The car is not good enough at the moment. 60+ laps bouncing around is heavy on man and machine.

  6. Indeed, but I still wait until QLF to be absolutely sure even if the order seems probable post-FP2.

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