A lot is hanging on Ferrari in making the Bahrain Grand Prix a closely-fought one. It is the only team which looks it may have the pace to make Red Bull fight for it – as Mercedes is simply not in the mix.
In that regard, after two sessions of Friday practice the picture looks very much as it did at the end of pre-season Formula 1 testing last week – with Max Verstappen setting the pace every time he runs, the Ferraris scratching close in response and the porpoising Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and George Russell flailing around at least 0.5s off, probably more.
In the past we have counselled caution about counting Mercedes out after suffering a difficult practice. This time, its limitations look very real.
The porpoising is there through key corners as well as the end of the pit straight and that’s where the time is being lost.
Looking at the comparison between Verstappen’s FP2-heading 1m31.936s and George Russell’s fourth-fastest 1m32.529s, we see the following:
The Mercedes enters the straight at much the same speed as the Red Bull but as the porpoising starts about mid-way down its acceleration curve begins to flatten out as the Red Bull’s is still aggressively climbing.
Russell is having to brake slightly earlier but they achieve much the same mid-corner minimum speeds through Turns 1/2.
Their straightline performance is almost identical on the run to Turn 4, but the Mercedes is slower at the apex.
Russell actually takes more speed into the medium-fast Turn 6 than Verstappen but is much slower by the middle of the corner, the Red Bull pulling well ahead through the building speed of Turn 7 before they brake hard for the hairpin of Turn 8 where the Mercedes is again slightly slower at the apex.
Russell gets through the Turn 9 kink slightly faster and they are all-but-equal through the tight hairpin of 10.
In the last quarter of the back straight the Mercedes is again losing time with porpoising and is slow into Turn 11. As Russell accelerates up the hill through Turn 12 the porpoising is building once more and he’s much slower into Turn 13.
Add all those deficits up and the gap today was the 0.55s we see.
If we look at Charles Leclerc’s second-fastest time in comparison to Verstappen, we see that the Ferrari generally carries a straightline speed advantage over the Red Bull.
Like the Mercedes, it loses time to the Red Bull through the quick downhill Turn 6 but it makes it up on acceleration all the way down the hill.
They run through Turn 8 at much the same speed but the Ferrari is going quicker through the kink of Turn 9 than either the Mercedes or Red Bull.
The remainder of the lap is a similar pattern of the Ferrari being ahead on the straights, the Red Bull faster in the corners.
That’s all assuming they are running similar power modes and fuel loads – which is not necessarily the case. Ferrari historically has run a little lighter, though on power unit settings it has tended to be quite conservative. It does look as if the new Ferrari PU is very healthy indeed.
Carlos Sainz and Leclerc appeared to be fuelled for different race stints, with Sainz running around 1s slower on his long runs. This would equate to around 28kg – or 15 laps-worth. Suggesting that Sainz may have been running a stint 1 fuel load and Leclerc a stint 2.
Similar comments apply in the comparison between Verstappen and team-mate Sergio Perez, although the Red Bulls were also running different aero and mechanical set-ups to each other.
Leclerc was delayed in the pits just prior to beginning his long run and so only got two laps into it before the chequer fell. We therefore don’t have a representative average but he began his stint at much the same pace as Verstappen did his – and around 1s faster than Sainz.
Valtteri Bottas caught the eye with a quick six-lap stint on the soft tyres less than 1s slower than Verstappen and although there’s a suspicion the Alfa Romeo is running relatively light its single lap pace looks directly comparable to Alpine’s – as does Haas’.
As the Mercedes’ tyres take a beating from the excessive bouncing, so its pace degrades more quickly than those of either Red Bull or Ferrari – and its long run averages are not significantly better than Alpine’s or Alfa Romeo’s.
AlphaTauri appears to be more competitive over a single lap than on a race stint and Aston Martin doesn’t appear to be quick on either.
McLaren prioritised fixing its brake problems and historically tends to find around 0.5s on its rivals between Friday and Saturday. After missing so much running with the brake problem last week it looks far from its potential on the numbers and Daniel Ricciardo’s running was cut short by a water leak.
Williams’ running was also shortened by a technical issue for Alex Albon but at the moment it is clearly the slowest team.
LONG RUN AVERAGES
Verstappen 1m37.469s (soft) 8 laps
Leclerc 1m37.499s (soft) 2 laps
Bottas 1m38.335s (soft) 6 laps
Perez 1m38.374s (soft) 8 laps
Magnussen 1m38.470s (soft) 6 laps
Sainz 1m38.520s (soft) 5 laps
Alonso 1m38.614s (medium) 8 laps
Ocon 1m38.618s (soft) 5 laps
Russell 1m38.662s (soft) 9 laps
Hamilton 1m38.953s (medium) 10 laps
Stroll 1m39.357s (soft) 6 laps
Norris 1m39.720s (soft) 8 laps
Gasly 1m38.914s (soft) 5 laps
Schumacher 1m39.801s (soft) 8 laps
Practice 2 Results
|Pos||Name||Car||Best Time||Gap Leader|
|1||Max Verstappen||Red Bull||1m31.936s|
|6||Valtteri Bottas||Alfa Romeo-Ferrari||1m32.951s||+1.015s|
|7||Sergio Pérez||Red Bull||1m32.958s||+1.022s|
|13||Pierre Gasly||AlphaTauri-Red Bull||1m33.621s||+1.685s|
|14||Yuki Tsunoda||AlphaTauri-Red Bull||1m33.789s||+1.853s|
|15||Guanyu Zhou||Alfa Romeo-Ferrari||1m33.953s||+2.017s|
|16||Lance Stroll||Aston Martin-Mercedes||1m33.958s||+2.022s|
|17||Nico Hülkenberg||Aston Martin-Mercedes||1m34.061s||+2.125s|