At long last, the first race weekend of the new season is upon us and we have the first significant race to help us begin to establish a pecking order for the 2021 campaign. Of course, it is still just practice, but there was a lot to learn. of the two sessions on Friday of one hour …
1. Red Bull’s preseason pace looks real
Red Bull and Max Verstappen have given some talk about them as favorites in no time in preparation for the inaugural race of the year in Bahrain. But their impressive form in practice Friday, after a pre-season super test, has done nothing to suggest that they are anything but the ones to beat.
Verstappen looked very comfortable on the track in Friday’s two practice sessions, which have been shortened by 30 minutes each since last season, and topped the times in FP2, which is the most representative of the two sessions, as took place at the same time. of the day as qualifying and the race.
READ MORE: ‘Now we have to show what we can do in qualifying,’ says Verstappen after leading Friday’s practice
He moved to downplay the team’s chances when we spoke after the session, suggesting that while it was a good day, “now we have to show what we can do in qualifying.” Our data suggests that Red Bull is pretty shoulder-to-shoulder with Mercedes at short race pace (well, 0.01 seconds drifting off the Silver Arrows), but 0.19 seconds ahead in long races. Where do they win? In the short and medium corners, and they are only a fraction behind Mercedes on the fast stuff.
READ MORE: Pérez admits he still can’t drive the RB16B ‘naturally’ after first practice sessions with Red Bull
The RB16B is clearly an impressive machine, and a big step up from last year, but it looks like Honda has taken a big step too. Speaking to Dutch broadcaster Ziggo after the shoot, Verstappen said in his native language that if you took the wings off his car, it would be like a rocket ship. The Dutchman, it is fair to say, is in high spirits.
2. The Mercedes are not as bad as feared, but they still lag behind
It’s not often that Mercedes boss Toto Wolff is asked what it’s like to be the underdog, but that’s the situation he’s found himself in lately, and again on Friday in Bahrain, with the Silver Arrows heading to the first race of the season apparently with a lot to do depending on its test form.
The timesheets did little to suggest that Mercedes had thrown it all away, but the W12 certainly looked more stable at the Bahrain International Circuit, and that translated into a lap time, with Lewis Hamilton 0.235 behind pace in the race. FP2.
READ MORE: Hamilton says Mercedes has improved, but Bottas labels W12 ‘undrivable’ on first day of practice in Bahrain
However, the data allows for an even better reading when all of a driver’s mini-sectors are taken and combined to make their ideal lap (see graph below, which compares actual lap times to each driver’s theoretical best lap, that is, what is your fastest lap). the time would be if they marked their best times in each mini sector in the same lap). On this metric, Hamilton left a staggering 0.648 on the table, which would have been enough to put him at the top of the pile, even if everyone else also completed their ideal lap.
Perhaps that is why Hamilton was not so depressed when he spoke after Friday’s session, saying that he “definitely” believes the team has taken a step forward from testing, even if they “still have more to do.” . Notably, he said Mercedes thought Red Bull “would be quick, if not faster,” suggesting that he feels very much in the fight.
3. The whole field seems closer than ever
We spent much of last season talking about the most competitive midfield in years, with P3 through P7 so evenly matched. And it seems that after Friday’s practice, not only has the midfield tightened, it has moved closer to the front.
Seven-tenths of a second separated Hamilton in third place from Fernando Alonso’s return in 15th place in FP2. Overall, Alonso was 0.923s drifting off Verstappen’s leading pace. In the same session of the Bahrain Grand Prix last year, the difference between the P1 and the P15 was 1.6 seconds.
‘Much remains on the table’: champions Vettel and Alonso on their first discreet day with new teams
Alpine’s Esteban Ocon, who is working with a new team of engineers this year, was excited at the prospect of such a close battle this season, adding that “it will be the details” that will make the difference on Sunday afternoons.
AlphaTauri also deserves recognition, their short race pace looks very competitive, and enough to make it to Q3 in qualifying, but it’s their long race pace that is so exciting, with Red Bull’s sister team on a remarkable note. third place on the metric. .
4. McLaren’s form supports the dark horse label, but drivers are unhappy
This appeared to be an enormously encouraging day for McLaren, who came out of testing looking like the third fastest team and appeared to do that assessment well with their performance in both day and night conditions.
Lando Norris was second-fastest on the timesheets in FP2 and held that spot in our ideal lap classification, having left 0.388s on the table, with only Hamilton fastest on that metric. And they were third overall in sprint pace, at just 0.2 seconds.
READ MORE: ‘I don’t want to be too confident’ – Norris downplays Friday’s pace when he says McLaren ‘didn’t feel good’
But the Brit was not a happy bunny when talking to the media after jumping out of the car. “We look fast today, but I think it’s pretty obvious what will happen tomorrow,” he said. A tough evaluation for someone who finished so high on the timesheets.
When it was suggested that the car be seen together, he replied, “You think? It’s not what it feels like. ”Some of that could be referring to long races, as they fall from P3 to P5 behind AlphaTauri and Ferrari on this metric.
His new teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, was equally cautious, but added: “The encouraging thing is that we are second and sixth, and both relatively unhappy. I don’t want to be too pessimistic, but I don’t think we are saying that we are 100% in the car and comfortable and that we are doing everything we want to. We still have work to do, but knowing that and [given that] we’re still on the pointy end is encouraging. “
Daniel Ricciardo ‘still not impressive’ in McLaren car
5. Veterans Vettel, Alonso and Raikkonen are still not up to date
They may have more than a decade of F1 experience each, but Friday’s practice suggested that even veterans like Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen need time to catch up on the new machinery.
For Alonso, it is especially difficult given that he has been out of the sport for two years. The Spaniard finished 15th fastest in FP2, almost a second behind the pace and behind his teammate by 0.25 seconds. Despite this, Alonso said that his Alpine “felt good” and that it was “amazing to be back”, and perhaps his confidence lay in his belief that the team “has something in its pocket” in terms of performance. because the balance felt different. to the test.
WATCH: ‘It felt amazing to be back’ in Formula 1, says Alonso
It was an equally challenging day for Vettel as he tries to settle into his new surroundings at Aston Martin. He had the lowest mileage of any race car in preseason testing and left Friday’s practice feeling he still has “a lot to learn.” Like fellow world champion Alonso, the German felt there was more to come and said that “there is still a lot on the table, just to get used to the car and be able to push the limit.”
Bahrain GP 2021 FP2: Räikkönen crashes into barriers
There was frustration for Kimi Raikkonen, who put his Alfa Romeo on the barriers during practice. The Finn, however, was very realistic about the incident and remains positive about his chances this weekend, having suggested earlier in the weekend that challenging for points this year was a more realistic prospect.
FP2 HIGHLIGHTS: Watch the key moments when Raikkonen crashes and Verstappen goes faster
“Of course, losing some time due to the incident was not ideal, but we already have so much test data that it was not a major setback,” he said. “We hope to see where we are tomorrow – we still have a few things to refine tonight, but we should be fine.”