It is time to really understand what is going on with the Formula 1 grid in Sakhir; after the first “surprising” race Down Under, which saw a triumphant Valtteri Bottas and a lost Prancing Horse, the action starts again in Bahrain.
The first Free Practice session starts under the sun, with a track surface temperature of 49°. The fundamental sessions, Qualifying and Race, will both start with artificial lights, with Sakhir’s being one of three-night races in the Formula 1 calendar.
The selected Pirelli compounds for this Grand Prix are the C1 (equivalent Hard), C2 (Medium) and C3 (Soft), coloured respectively in white, yellow and red.
Several teams hit the track with green flow- wiz painting and aero-wings to make new aerodynamic tests. Daniel Ricciardo, after a disastrous epilogue in his home race, hits the track with a new chassis on his RS19. He also has the chance to test a new rear wing with less downforce. Despite this, the Enstone team managed to save every engine component for his car. The same didn’t happen to Carlos Sainz: the Spaniard faced a different destiny with his McLaren after the fire he suffered during the race in Melbourne. His MGU-K has been replaced, meaning he is already on his second component of three allowed by the FIA regulations.
The first yellow flag in Sector 1 is caused by Lance Stroll, who spun his Force India. The Canadian delivered a good performance in Australia, conquering 2 points after a disastrous Saturday (he failed to get to Q2).
Meanwhile, the first interesting fastest lap is scored by Sebastian Vettel, after just half and an hour of track action: 1.32.299s for him wearing C3 compound, followed by Melbourne’s race winner Valtteri Bottas with a 1.32.340s, wearing C2 compound on his Mercedes. Last year’s Pole Position was conquered by Sebastian Vettel, with the quickest time of 1.27.958s.
Ferrari had a hard time during the first race weekend, with speculations blaming a power unit cooling issues and wrong set-ups. Despite being just the second Grand Prix of the season, the Bahrain race weekend will be fundamental for Ferrari to try and fix the issues in order to fight for the championship and run after Mercedes in the standings. With just 45 minutes left, Vettel leads the FP1 standings, with a lap time of 1.31.747s, followed by his team mate Charles Leclerc. Bottas and Hamilton are respectively 3rd and 4th, but with a hardest tyres compound. Hamilton himself loses his Mercedes during more than one lap, unable to keep his W10 in the track limits.
The session went on with a continuous fight between the Ferrari, the Mercedes drivers and Max Verstappen for the fastest time, all of them with the C2 compound. The Dutch man is strong of his third place in Australia, the first podium for Honda since its comeback in the F1 circus, but the Red Bull soon leaves track to the two top teams, with more than a second of disadvantage.
The fight for the first position in FP1 is in the end won by Charles Leclerc, with the fastest time of 1.30.354s with C3 compound. The Monegasque is followed by his team mate, just 3 tenths slower. Valtteri Bottas is again ahead of Hamilton, both followed by the two Red Bull. For the first time this year, there is not a Mercedes driver on top at the end of a session.
With the same tyres compound, it feels like Ferrari’s are faster on the race pace simulation, with lap times of about 1.35s; both Mercedes go with a 1.36/37 race pace, with an unknown fuel load. Everything will be cleared in FP2, with the same conditions we will find during Qualifying and Race.
Stroll, Russel and Kubica are the slowest of the group, being more than 3 seconds slower that Leclerc. Both Williams’ drivers are going to face another very difficult weekend, with the team being short of carbon pieces: they have just one front wing per car, meaning that the team ordered their drivers to avoid kerbs during the sessions.
Here is the complete classification for the first free practice session in Bahrain.