Red Bull’s Max Verstappen made an early statement of intent on the opening day of the season-opening Formula 1 Grand Prix in Bahrain, the reigning world champions beating a fiery duo Ferrari to top practice times.
But it was a terrible start for Mercedes and seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton, who finished seventh then ninth in two practice sessions before declaring ‘we weren’t bluffing’ with a lack of pace.
Watch Every Practice, Qualification & Race of the 2022 FIA Formula One World Championship Live, starting with the 2022 Bahrain Grand Prix From 18 March. New to Kayo? 14 Days Free Trial Now >
Verstappen led Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc by just 0.087 seconds in the second practice session of the day, and Ferrari’s second driver Carlos Sainz trailed by half a second. Mercedes’ George Russell was fourth while Fernando Alonso was fifth for Alpine, with Daniel Ricciardo 17th and 18th in the two training sessions.
It came after AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly took a surprising lead in the opening practice session, using soft tires to record a lap of 1m 34.193 seconds. It was 0.364 seconds ahead of Leclerc on the medium tyre, who led Sainz and – well behind – Mercedes’ George Russell and Red Bull’s Verstappen.
But all the talk in the paddock revolved around Mercedes’ struggles, with Russell fourth in both sessions and Hamilton providing a seventh-best position, and 1.2 seconds behind Verstappen in second practice.
Hamilton said the team needed a ‘long term fix’ to their problem.
“I’m just being realistic and, right now, as I said last week, we’re not going to race to win,” said a listless Hamilton.
“If you look at the Red Bulls, they are way, far ahead, in the eight to nine tenths region, and the Ferraris half a second to six tenths ahead.
“So we’re still a long way off and we’re not bluffing like people think.
“We’ve had small problems in the past, but we’ve had much bigger problems this year and everything we’re doing to try and fix them doesn’t really change that.
“It looks like it’s going to be a long-term fix and not a short-term one, but our mindset is to be the best we can be – it’s not ideal, but we’ll work together to try and fix it.”
Hamilton’s new Mercedes team-mate, Williams’ former man and compatriot George Russell, was fourth but said his lap was a ‘one-off’ lap and not an indication of hidden speed.
Like Hamilton, Russell struggled with his car’s problem with ‘porpoising’ – the bouncing sensation caused by the new car’s unstable aerodynamic management.
As a result, cars appear to bounce on their suspension systems when the ‘suction’ force of the car changes at speeds of up to 300 km/h.
“It’s all about lap times, and we’re certainly not where we want to be,” he said. “I think we’ve made a bit of progress in solving some of the issues, but the pace is completely non-existent at the moment, so we’ll have to really study tonight’s data to understand why we’re both struggling a bit with the car.
“And we are far from the pace of Red Bull, Ferrari – even the likes of AlphaTauri, Alfa Romeo seem to be at our pace or even faster. So we have a bit of work to do.”
While teams like Ferrari, AlphaTauri, Alfa Romeo and even Haas managed to record Hamilton’s best time in practice, it was a disaster for McLaren.
After Daniel Ricciardo missed last weekend’s tests due to Covid-19, his return home was a bit better – finishing only 17th and 18th.
Team mate Lando Norris was 16th and 11th on a tough day for the team.
“We didn’t have a smooth day,” Ricciardo said on Friday night, after his session was shortened by ten minutes due to a water leak.
“Unfortunately, we missed a few games tonight, so our work has stopped.
“We will continue to do so, studying tonight’s data and trying to make up for it tomorrow morning before qualifying.”
“To be honest, I think we were just lacking in grip overall. The car feels fine, but obviously when you lack grip a little you struggle a little bit and lock the wheels here and there, and make some mistakes,” added Ricciardo.
“But I think compared to the fastest cars, at the moment we are just looking for some grip overall. Right now, that’s our biggest friend in F1 – the grip – and it’s never enough.”
To make matters worse for Hamilton, 37, entering his 15th season in F1, it has been confirmed that he was fined 50,000 euros by the sport’s governing body, the International Motor Federation (FIA), for failing to attend the prize-giving ceremony last December. in Paris.
A statement said: “In the spirit of commitment to building a more diverse sport in the future, the President of the FIA (Mohammed Ben Sulayem) gives his full support for Hamilton’s decision to make a donation of EUR50,000 which will be used to support students from disadvantaged backgrounds. in achieving educational qualifications in motorsport.”
Bahrain GP FP2 Results
1. Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:31,936 20 laps
2. Charles Leclerc Ferrari 0.087s 20 lapses
3. Carlos Sainz Ferrari 0.584s 21 laps
4. George Russell Mercedes 0.593 seconds 24 laps
5. Fernando Alonso Alpine 0.941 seconds 24 laps
6. Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo Racing 1,015 seconds 29 laps
7. Sergio Perez Red Bull 1.022 seconds 20 laps
8. Mick Schumacher Haas 1.149 seconds 23 laps
9. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1.208s 22 laps
10. Kevin Magnussen Haas 1,247s 22 laps
11. Lando Norris McLaren 1.344s 26 laps
12. Esteban Ocon Alpine 1.424 seconds 25 laps
13. Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri 1.685s 24 laps
14. Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 1,853 seconds 26 laps
15. Guanyu Zhou Alfa Romeo Racing 2017s 26 laps
16. Lance Stroll Aston Martin 2.022 seconds 24 laps
17. Nico Hulkenberg Aston Martin 2.125 seconds 27 laps
18. Daniel Ricciardo McLaren 2.230 seconds 12 laps
19. Nicholas Latifi Williams 2,550 seconds 27 laps
20. Alex Albon Williams 2,799 seconds 22 laps