Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes Formula 1 stand-in George Russell topped the first practice session ahead of the Sakhir Grand Prix on the Bahrain track’s ultra-short Outer layout.
McLaren driver Carlos Sainz Jr’s 56.631s set at the nine-minute mark was already believed to be the fastest official grand prix weekend laptime in F1 history, surpassing Niki Lauda’s Ferrari 312 B3 Dijon pole in 1974 – and by the chequered flag that benchmark was lowered by a further two seconds.
Russell was among the last drivers to head out onto the track, and was a second off his team-mate Valtteri Bottas after his first proper series of laps – with Bottas leading Red Bull driver Max Verstappen by two tenths at the half-hour mark.
The status quo was maintained until after the session clock ticked over the halfway mark, but when Russell went out on a fresh set of softs he immediately took the top spot with his first flying lap, a 55.030s.
And Bottas was unable to respond immediately on his own set of fresh soft rubber, getting stuck in traffic on his first flyer and having the follow-up ruined by a Turn 10 lock-up.
Mercedes said Bottas had picked up damage on his car on an early lap, which compromised his pace and ultimately limited his running.
Bottas did finally go faster a few minutes later, but by then it was only good enough for second, as Verstappen had jumped ahead with the first sub-55s lap of the weekend and Bottas came up 0.020s short of overhauling his 54.848s.
Moments later Verstappen’s Red Bull team-mate Alex Albon went marginally quicker, before Russell uncorked a 54.546s on what were already fairly used softs to establish a quarter-second lead.
Verstappen soon jumped back ahead of Albon before, but only got to 0.176s off Russell – with Albon completing the top three despite having later lost the car through Turn 2 in a spin that caused no significant damage.
Inside the last 20 mins of FP1
Alex Albon has been really quick – he's running P3 at the moment and was previously in P1 ⏱️
— Formula 1 (@F1) December 4, 2020
Bottas was only fourth, 0.322s down on Russell, with the AlphaTauri duo of Daniil Kvyat and Pierre Gasly completing the top five in an overall fantastic showing for the team.
The only blip was Gasly having to return to the pits at one point with a broken right rearview mirror, which he had to hold with his left hand while steering with his right hand.
Pierre Gasly reports a problem with one of his mirrors, which appears to have come loose 👀
— Formula 1 (@F1) December 4, 2020
Renault’s aptitude for low-downforce layouts appeared visible yet again as Esteban Ocon and Daniel Ricciardo were seventh and ninth respectively, split by Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.
Vettel’s team-mate Charles Leclerc made up the top 10, having a big snap through Turn 5 early on in the session that led to a trip through the gravel.
Lance Stroll was the lead Racing Point in 11th, a second off the pace, while Sainz ultimately led McLaren’s efforts in 13th.
The weekend’s F1 debutants Pietro Fittipaldi and Jack Aitken completed the order.
Fittipaldi, who is substituting for Haas driver Romain Grosjean this weekend, had to end his running early due to a big lock-up and was 2.5s off the pace, a second off team-mate Kevin Magnussen.
Williams reserve driver Aitken, piloting Russell’s FW43, had a big half-spin exiting Turn 2, and wound up four tenths behind Russell’s regular team-mate Nicholas Latifi.
Practice 1 Results
|Pos||Name||Car||Best Time||Gap Leader|
|2||Max Verstappen||Red Bull-Honda||54.722s||+0.176s|
|3||Alex Albon||Red Bull-Honda||54.811s||+0.265s|
|11||Lance Stroll||Racing Point-Mercedes||55.558s||+1.012s|
|12||Sergio Pérez||Racing Point-Mercedes||55.716s||+1.17s|
|13||Carlos Sainz Jr.||McLaren-Renault||55.757s||+1.211s|
|14||Kimi Räikkönen||Alfa Romeo-Ferrari||55.783s||+1.237s|
|15||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo-Ferrari||55.858s||+1.312s|