Yes! The rumors are kind of true for now. Mercedes are no more dominant. Mercedes F1 team and sandbagging might go hand in hand but it seems too farfetched to be true this time around. The 2021 Formula 1 grid reached the Bahrain International Circuit for the first official FP session of the year and if you thought pre-season testing was anything to go by, you’re, just like me, in for a surprise.
I couldn’t catch the action live but, my editor did. Although, I did switch to Twitter every now and then and what I saw was beyond my imagination – Mercedes clearly struggling, Max, like always, leading the way, and Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz Jr., seeming to be right in the mix. Ferrari is getting back to where they belong! It was my editor’s words that made it even more interesting because he said that all the cars up to Vettel, by the end of FP2, were within a second of the leader Max Verstappen.
Talking of him, his teammate Sergio Perez also did prove his worth and why an experienced and very talented race car driver could prove better than any of the juniors. Moreover, Mercedes actually were struggling and still Hamilton was doing a pretty good job to keep up with Norris and Verstappen. What we all need to acknowledge is Ham is 36 years old while the rest of the top 5 are significantly younger.
Fair then, for us at least, as we get to see the cars finish *really* close to each other. For the engineers and teams, I can’t really say the same. Nonetheless, in case you missed the all-important day yesterday, we are here to take you up to F1 speeds. Put on your seatbelts because it wasn’t a sight to say “God damn” but rather “hot damn.” Get it? Bahrain is hot and so was the session so… anyway.
Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team
Lewis Hamilton managed to pull out *almost* everything in his power with a total of 39 laps and a best time of 1:31:082 set under the floodlights. On Bottas’ side, things were more peculiar – he termed the car “undriveable”, and could never topple his teammate except when he finished ahead of Lewis in the first practice session – the most irrelevant session of them all. However, he still managed a PB lap of 1:31:218 from the 40 laps he drove.
Red Bull Racing
The team which looks at the best shape in the turbo-hybrid era, took the Friday Practice Trophy as the young-gun, Max Verstappen had 35 laps and best time of 1:30:847 to his tally. His pace and consistency was key to announce Red Bull as a title contender for this season. Although still, he thinks RB is silly to think of itself as a title challenger.
Sergio Perez’s one-lap pace wasn’t as quick as his quick teammate, but it is the race pace where Sergio’s magic lies. All he requires is some more time with the car and he’s set to live up to the expectations. He completed 38 laps and my editor claimed quite emotionally (umm?) that he thoroughly enjoyed watching his drive. I would agree though. Perez is that one driver who went from 18th on the grid to 1st in a mid-field car last year.
Charles Leclerc looked comfortable, pushed his car to the limits and came home with a PB lap of 1:31:612 and 40 laps completed. As for his teammate, Sainz was perhaps one of the biggest surprises of yesterday. He looked in control of his Ferrari from the word go and managed to finish in the Top 4 in FP2 with a PB lap of 1:31:127. The Spaniard clocked in 41 laps and I believe he could be a bigger threat to Ferrari than helping them solve a threat there. Sainz Jr. is not the one to accept a second seat in a team. Especially when the other driver is a much younger and not really better than Sainz Jr. himself.
Lando Norris was undoubtedly fast, and the biggest surprise, too – he finished both the sessions inside the Top 3 and was under a tenth shy of Max’s time from FP2. Daniel, however, couldn’t manage to replicate his teammate’s strong outing as he still is yet to discover his car’s maximum potential. Ricciardo needs more time with the car than his fashion line-up? Well, just claiming words that will soon be on every ‘critic’s’ mouth. I do believe once Ricciardo gets comfy, he’ll be unstoppable. Always remember he is the one who won without KERS thereby losing 150hp in Monaco in 2018.
Aston Martin didn’t think of smashing the timing screens, instead, it focused on itself, and run its own programme. The reliability issues from the pre-season testing are now gone, but we have to wait until the qualifying to see where does it line up.
Sebastian Vettel completed 47 laps and set a PB lap of 1:31:769. Lance, on the other hand, completed 44 laps with a PB lap of 1:31:393
The team had a lackluster day at the office yesterday as it focused on the long runs earlier in the day and switched to the softs in evening, but the pace wasn’t what it had expected. Fernando Alonso in particular, was unhappy by some margin, but with his experience, the team knows it can find a solution or two.
After its successful 2020 campaign, there are some high expectations from the team, and the drivers know it too. Although traffic and unfavorable conditions did cost them both. However, a couple of things are for certain – Yuki Tsunoda is a fast driver indeed, and Pierre Gasly is only getting stronger.
The progress was halted when Kimi had an off and lost his front-wing along and some essential track-time. Although it was compensated by the talented Antonio Giovinazzi. Alfa seems to have upped its game, especially when compared with its 2020-self, but to what extent, we should know that by the end of today.
Haas continues to be the slowest of the field, with the VF-21 lacking the sheer pace and consistency. Team Principal Guenther Steiner has already said that the team has shifted its focus on the next year’s car so, it’s a shame for Mick Schumacher as we won’t be seeing much of his potential the entire year, as it seems. Nikita Mazepin did put in some fast laps, but he too, lacks the consistency, and most of the blame has to go to the car.
And as for Williams, it certainly looked like it was reliving its past years again as it finished near the back-end of the field. But, with ‘Mr. Saturday’, George Russell at the driving duties, one can only expect him to take his machine to Q2. For Nicholas Latifi, it was a slow start, but he aims to better it when it actually counts.
Red Bull’s pre-season pace is evident here – the car is quick, consistent, and has got everything to beat Mercedes, at least in the first race. However, the data and graphics don’t tell the entire story – the Silver Arrows are slow, but not to a surprising extent.
The entire midfield looks to be closer than ever – only nine tenths of a second covered the Top 15 in FP2. This figure alone speaks volume for the amount of development and progress, all the teams have made this year. Although here’s a fun fact – Mercedes could still be on Pole today.