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MEDIA RELEASE/Formula 1 – Photos:

Max Verstappen’s first day of the 2021 season couldn’t have gone much better, with the Red Bull driver heading Free Practice 2 for the Bahrain Grand Prix to complete a clean sweep of fastest times across Friday, as McLaren’s Lando Norris pipped the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton to P2.

Verstappen topped FP1 comfortably from Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas, the Dutchman looking supremely at ease in the Red Bull RB16B, and he kept that form going into the more representative evening session under the Bahrain floodlights, posting a fastest time of 1m 30.847s in the 60-minute FP2 session – down from 90 minutes last year – to claim his second P1 of the day.

Perhaps as impressive as Verstappen’s lap was the effort of Norris, who followed up his P3 in FP1 with P2 in the evening session, the Briton lapping just 0.095s off Verstappen’s pace in the new Mercedes-powered McLaren MCL35M.

Hamilton wound up P3, Mercedes for a second time today unable to get within two-tenths of Verstappen’s Red Bull, as the seven-time champion ended up 0.235s adrift, and 0.045s ahead of Ferrari new boy Carlos Sainz, who put in an impressive qualifying simulation lap of 1m 31.127s in the SF21.

Bottas was fifth for Mercedes ahead of the second McLaren of Daniel Ricciardo – another driver bedding in with a new team this weekend – while rookie Yuki Tsunoda put in a fine lap to take P7, two places ahead of team mate Pierre Gasly, with the Aston Martin of Lance Stroll in between them – Tsunoda continuing to create plenty of buzz ahead of his debut race start in F1.

Sergio Perez in the second Red Bull was 10th, with seemingly more to come from the Mexican, while Esteban Ocon posted the fastest lap for the re-branded Alpine outfit – the Frenchman recovering from a Turn 1 off early doors to take P11, 0.754s off the leading pace.

Charles Leclerc was 12th in the second Ferrari, ahead of the Alfa Romeo of Antonio Giovinazzi, with P14 taken by Sebastian Vettel in the second Aston Martin – the German four-time champion still not looking entirely at ease in his new AMR21 – while there was another multiple champion in P15, namely the returning Fernando Alonso.

Sixteenth was the Alfa Romeo of Kimi Raikkonen, the Finn the first driver in the pack to finish more than 1s adrift of Verstappen, and having caused the main drama in the session when he spun coming out of Turn 2, smashing his Alfa Romeo C41 into the barriers and wiping off the front wing.

From Raikkonen, there was then a four-tenths gulf to the next fastest car, the Williams of George Russell – with Russell having predicted that his team would struggle in the gusty conditions forecast for Bahrain this weekend.

Haas’ Mick Schumacher was P18 and nearly one second adrift of Russell at the end of his first ever Friday as a fully-fledged F1 driver, beating the second Williams of Nicholas Latifi and Schumacher’s own team mate Nikita Mazepin – who ran wide at Turn 6 early on in the session, complaining of balance issues on his VF-21.

So after our first truly representative running of 2021, it’s Red Bull and Max Verstappen with the early advantage. But can Mercedes fight back – and are McLaren in the hunt this season? We’ll find out as the weekend progresses.



A much better day for the team than they had in pre-season testing, with plenty of running from both drivers. They managed clean laps on the soft compound tyres under the lights, but neither driver could get on the pace of the Red Bull. There or thereabouts, with plenty of data to analyse overnight, but as it stands they are not favourites for pole tomorrow.

Lewis Hamilton – FP1: 1:31.921, P4; FP2: 1:31.082, P3

“The car wasn’t where we wanted it by this weekend. It’s looking better but still not perfect so we’re working as hard as we can. We still have a hill to climb but we’re staying positive. We thought Red Bull would be as fast as they are, so we know they are leading at the moment. McLaren are looking great and it’s good to see them taking a step. It will be interesting to see how the long runs are.

“Stability – it’s all about having a stable car and being able to make the tyres last. That’s going to be key in this climate and with the wind we have here.


“(On the forecast of a windy Sunday)… That’s not great for us! The rear is unstable as it is but I’m sure everyone will be in the same boat – some a little more, some a little less. For people at home trying to understand, when you approach a corner and the rear moves, you’re trying to find that tipping point. The tipping point used to be further away with more downforce on the car – now it falls away much quicker than normal. The performance we’ve lost on tyres this year doesn’t help but we’ll work away tonight and try to find a way.”

Valtteri Bottas – FP1: 1:31.692, P2; FP2: 1:31.218, P5

“First, the car felt better than in testing. It felt like we’re still not yet there with the car balance, but it was a trouble-free day and no big issues. I think the main thing in my mind is that we have plenty of work to do if we want to fight for the pole this weekend.

“Inconsistency in the balance, especially in the rear-end was one area to work on from testing and in terms of set-up approach, things improved and the car does feel better but it’s not quite yet where we would want it. We still have tonight and tomorrow morning to try and figure it out.

“The last long run we did was pretty difficult: I couldn’t really put any laps together and the car felt nearly undrivable at times. But it’s only Friday and that’s why we do practice. We’re definitely in the mix. McLaren looked strong today, so too Red Bull as expected. I think we are up there – we’re aren’t the fastest but we’re not too far off it. We’ll see tomorrow.”

Red Bull F1 Team


First Practice Session: 1:31.394, Position: 1, Laps: 12

Second Practice Session: 1:30.847, Position: 1, Laps: 23

“It’s been a good day again and with the heat and the wind it is not easy to find a perfect balance around the whole lap but overall I would say it was a positive day. There are still things to improve and look into for tomorrow, tyre wise and a bit of balance tuning, plus I think it will be even more windy which is a challenge for everyone in these cars. I am pretty happy with the start of the weekend but tomorrow is a different day and we have to see whether we can do it in qualifying when it counts.”


First Practice Session: 1:32.071, Position: 6, Laps: 15

Second Practice Session: 1:31.503, Position: 10, Laps: 23

“It feels great to finally get into a race weekend and I’m pleased so far with how things are going. I’m settling in well and taking some steps forwards. If I were to summarize today, I’ve got some work to do on the short runs as over one lap I don’t quite feel the car is within me just yet and I still have to think about what the car is doing, but in the long runs I’m more comfortable and I think the pace is there so that’s positive. I think we have some work to do on the soft tyre as there is also room for improvement there, but the car is performing well, we have good pace and tomorrow it will be pretty close in qualifying so we need to make sure we get it right and have a good start to the season.”

McLaren F1 Team – Lando Norris & Daniel Riccairdo


 FP1 1m32.434s (+1.040s)  20 laps  9th  
 FP2 1m31.230s (+0.383s) 22 laps  6th 

“I thought having an hour session instead of 90 minutes meant it would be a bit easier, with less time on track – but it was pretty chaotic actually. You feel the half-hour. It goes quick. I think it was quite fortunate that we were here a couple of weeks ago, so we could hit the ground running. I think you need to make the most of that track time.

“I’m still getting there, I still want to find a few things in the car and obviously within myself. In FP2 I made some inroads, but hopefully I’ll find another step tomorrow to get more where I want to be.”


 FP1 1m31.897s (+0.503s)   20 laps  3rd 
 FP2 1m30.942s (+0.095s)  25 laps   2nd 

“A reasonable first day back in the car. I think we started where we left off in testing, which is a good thing. The car has improved in some areas, which is positive, but other areas have got a little bit worse. It’s been a tricky day to put it all together but on the whole I’m happy. Here and there we’ve got some work to do for tomorrow, but if we can put it together, hopefully we can be competitive. We seem to be very close to AlphaTauri, Ferrari and other cars, so tomorrow will definitely be tight, but we’ll see what we can do.”

Aston Martin Cognizant

Sebastian Vettel
FP1  P12  1.33.157  21 Laps
FP2  P14  1.31.769  26 Laps

Lance Stroll
FP1  P13  1.33.233  20 Laps
FP2  P08  1.31.393  24 Laps

Sebastian Vettel
“It’s very busy with less time in the practice sessions, but we were able to get a lot out of it. Every lap helps me get more used to the car and I’m able to find more of a rhythm. I’m still trying a lot of things and learning as I go, so I’m looking forward to going over the data and coming back tomorrow with the insights we have gained. The car was really promising in some corners and less so in others, but that’s normal at this stage of the season. We will work tonight to find a more consistent balance. As you can see, the midfield is very tight and everyone is learning quickly, but I hope we will be a factor.”

Lance Stroll
“It was great to be back in the car today and I’m excited to get racing again. Today was the first real indication of everyone’s performance and you can see that the middle of the grid is very close and competitive. It was a little tricky on track with the high winds – a bit like it was in testing at times. Today’s practice sessions also reminded me just how important it is to get the little details right, so we will work hard tonight and go over all the data to find improvements where we can.”

Otmar Szafnauer, CEO & Team Principal
“The practice sessions are shorter for everyone this year, but the goals are the same. It’s about making sure you’re able to complete your performance runs and race simulations. We made progress with both of those objectives, collected a large amount of information and have learned more about the car and its characteristics. We’ve made progress since we were here for testing, but the conditions were quite windy in the second session, and it’s still not easy to have a clear picture of where we sit in the pecking order just yet. On Sebastian’s side, he had a disrupted test, so it was about getting him as much track time as possible today. The more comfortable he is with the car, the more he can push. For Lance, it was a productive day and plenty of laps completed as we head into the weekend. We still need to improve our pace over a single lap and that’s one of the priorities as we prepare for final practice and qualifying tomorrow.”

Alpine F1 Team

Alpine F1 Team started the season-opening Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix weekend with a trouble-free Friday practice at the Bahrain International Circuit.

Esteban Ocon ended the day in eleventh place with team-mate Fernando Alonso – driving his first Friday practice since 2018 – fifteenth under the lights in Bahrain.

New regulations for 2021 means Friday practice has been reduced from three hours to two hours, making every run crucial to the progress of the race weekend.

The first session – under scorching 35C heat – focused on a series of aero evaluations on the A521 with both drivers on Hard (C2) tyres for the early part of the day before finishing FP1 on Softs (C4).

In FP2, held in the evening, track temperature dipped by almost 15C, with both sides of the garage running the Mediums (C3) for the first time of the day and then low fuel on Softs. Esteban and Fernando rounded off their day with higher fuel runs.

Esteban Ocon, #31, A521-05 
Free Practice 1: P15, 1:33.528, 20 laps
Free Practice 2: P11, 1:31.601, 24 laps

Esteban: “It’s good to be back in the car again in preparation for a race weekend. I think we’ve had a solid day as we made an improvement from FP1 to FP2. We’ve discovered a lot of things between now and testing, so it was good to carry that on during today’s practice. We still need to work hard and find more details, though, and there’s certainly more potential to unlock from the car. It’s only Friday and we know tomorrow is when it counts. I quite enjoyed the shorter practice sessions. It means you have to focus a lot more on each run as every bit of track time counts.” 

Fernando Alonso, #14, A521-06 
Free Practice 1: P16, 1:33.872, 18 laps
Free Practice 2: P15, 1:31.770, 24 laps

Fernando: “It was fantastic to be back in a free practice session today in Formula 1. You feel the extra adrenaline with the traffic and everything going on around you; it’s very different to testing. It felt good and I felt the racing spirit each lap, which I enjoyed. We got through our programme in the first session in very hot conditions and then some long runs this evening as the track cooled for FP2. We do still need to fine tune some of the car setup and analyse the data a bit more, but, overall, I’m happy with my day.” 

Davide Brivio, Racing Director: “We did quite a lot of work today. For FP1, we tried some different settings on the car and then, this evening, the team did a good job and we were able to improve the balance of the car. I think we made a step in the second session and we improved our pace. Now it’s time for us to analyse what we’ve done and identify the areas where we can make further improvements. We will keep looking forward as a team and continue to work. The aim is to make another further step for tomorrow’s practice and get ready ahead of qualifying.” 

Total Laps: 86 laps (44, Esteban; 42, Fernando), 465km. 
The equivalent of driving the length of Bahrain, 10 times.

Esteban Ocon (FRA) Alpine F1 Team A521.
Bahrain Grand Prix, Friday 26th March 2021. Sakhir, Bahrain.



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