Bahrain Grand Prix, practice time, analysis, Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, Charles Leclerc, Ferrari
The first day of official timed action at the Bahrain Grand Prix is in the books, and Formula 1 is finally getting some answers on the true competitive picture for the season ahead.
The answers are good for Max Verstappen and especially Ferrari. The defending champion led the way at the end of the all-important second practice session, the only representative hour of racing before qualifying, but there was almost nothing to separate him from the pursuing Ferrari drivers.
The answers were undoubtedly bad for Mercedes. The team must be sick of saying “I told you so” this week, but it really told us not to expect much from the car in Bahrain, and that’s not exactly what it a book.
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So we have a clear set of leaders, but the midfield peloton remains clouded by a series of reliability issues that have prevented us from getting the full picture. Nevertheless, our second practice session is a good look at the exact position of the teams 24 hours before qualifying, so any major improvements in terms of grid setting will mean a lot of work overnight for the mechanics of this team.
Let’s look at the data.
NOTHING SEPARATED RED BULL RACING FROM FERRARI (HOPE WE)
Max Verstappen edged Charles Leclerc by 0.087 seconds in second practice, although the lap time was slightly different. Ferrari said during pre-season that they believe they have made up for the power deficit of the Honda and Mercedes engines, and based on practice in Bahrain, that’s very true: Leclerc was slightly faster in the lines straight lines, Verstappen making up time in the corners.
Bahrain is a true limited-traction circuit, with the highest forces going to the rear tyres. It’s hard to tell when the margins are so thin whether the RBR has a traction advantage or is ahead of the downforce. The fuel and engine modes are obviously still unknown.
There’s not much to separate the teams in race pace too – at least on the surface. Again Verstappen leads the way, but again the nominal difference is marginal: only 0.027s on the soft tyre.
But there is a potentially crucial caveat: Leclerc’s long run on the soft compound only lasts two laps. Sainz’s long run was longer – but still not as long as Verstappen’s – and much slower, although the Spaniard struggled to find his balance throughout the evening session.
Long term lap time analysis
Red Bull Racing (Verstappen) 1:37.472 (soft, 9 laps)
Ferrari (Leclerc) 1:37.499 (soft, 2 laps)
Aston Martin (Hulkenberg) 1:38.115 (soft, 3 laps)
Alfa Romeo (Bottas) 1:38.335 (soft, 6 laps)
Haas (Magnussen) 1:38.471 (soft, 6 laps)
Ferrari (Sainz) 1:38.522 (soft, 5 laps)
Mercedes (Russell) 1:38.647 (soft, 10 laps)
Mercedes (Hamilton) 1:38.756 (medium, 9 laps)
Alpine (Ocon) 1:38.833 (soft, 8 laps)
AlphaTauri (Gasly) 1:38.878 (soft, 6 laps)
McLaren (Norris) 1:39.497 (soft, 10 laps)
Williams (Latifi) 1:40.053 (soft, 10 laps)
Verstappen’s long term shows us how badly we need Ferrari to be in the fight and lead the battle against Red Bull Racing this weekend, lest the Dutchman enter the first race of the season. Hopefully Leclerc’s reduced run on the softs is more accurate.
It’s also remarkable how more forceful Ferrari has been over the past week over its prospects, having done its best to downplay its strong pre-season campaign.
“I’m quite confident in the car and felt good overall,” said Leclerc. “We have tested a lot of things and worked a lot on the car since the first session.
“We have made good progress and we have to keep pushing to find small details before qualifying tomorrow.”
MERCEDES REALLY HAS PROBLEMS – A LOT OF PROBLEMS
But the story of the day was undoubtedly Mercedes and how bad the car is – although it will still take a few more laps before christening it the unlucky W13.
Mercedes wasn’t on pace no matter how you cut it, and the crux of the problem remains porpoising – the bouncing of the car at speed as the aerodynamics quickly stall and re-engage.
It was less pronounced this weekend but still clearly severe, so much so that it prevented the car from maximizing top speed and thus costing him around half a second of pure pace.
That bounce was obviously also deleterious on longer travel too, the tires punished more and exceptionally compared to the smoother rival machines. For reference, Russell and Hamilton have their best times included in the table above; that there is little difference between the two compounds suggests that the car is simply not able to maximize its performance due to these limiting flaws.
The tense nature of the situation was clear even before the second practice. Hamilton’s garage side were frantically trying to change settings at the start of the final hour, delaying it by minutes. When he was on the track, he immediately complained that the rebounds hadn’t improved, and he later dealt with front brake issues and a faulty DRS, which kept him at a low pace on a turn.+
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George Russell fared better, albeit with fewer problems, but the seriousness of the situation was evident from the way the two expressed themselves afterwards.
“We’re way off the pace of Red Bull and Ferrari, and even AlphaTauri and Alfa Romeo seem on pace or even faster,” Russell suggested. “From our side, we are definitely not happy with the car at the moment.
Lewis Hamilton said it was the biggest technical challenge he had faced at Mercedes at the start of the season.
“We’ve had some small issues in the past compared to this year,” he said. “We are facing much bigger problems this year. Everything we do to try to fix it doesn’t really change that.
“It looks like it’s probably going to be a longer term fix, so nothing short term.”
Mercedes director of ground engineering Andrew Shovlin admitted the practice was essentially being treated as an extension of testing as the team tried to overcome its unresolved issues.
Say it quietly, but Bahrain already seems like a round of damage limitation.
RELIABILITY IS ALWAYS A MAJOR ISSUE FOR NEW CARS
But the midfielder, Mercedes included – how many times have we said that in the last decade? – is hard to decipher for the real beat given that reliability played a major role throughout Friday. The biggest rule change in a generation was always likely to cause teams to face some teething issues, and that was confirmed by a relatively high attrition rate.
Esteban Ocon caused a red flag in early practice when his right side pod exploded, blowing the side of the car and scattering across the track. Alpine had to fit it with an older part for the rest of the day and will try to express an updated body kit to it from its factory overnight.
Mercedes’ porpoising issues also caused Russell to lose some bodywork, although much less dramatically and without affecting the day’s race. Hamilton then had his brake and DRS issues.
Daniel Ricciardo suffered a water leak on his McLaren which further reduced his track time, after losing three days of testing due to being diagnosed with COVID-19 last week. Last year such a problem could have been a quicker fix, but this year a longer process as mechanics get to grips with the new machines.
McLaren has also admitted that the brake cooling solution to its overheating problems in testing is only an interim measure, with a permanent solution not expected until later in the year, further compromising the day of the team – and potentially the weekend, which is a potentially limiting factor. for the race.
It’s not unusual to see Woking set an average pace on Friday and then finish higher in the standings on Saturday, but the team are clearly not 100 per cent ready for the start of the season.
Valtteri Bottas only completed two installation laps in the first practice thanks to a misfire problem. The team fixed it between sessions, but it cost them their first of only two new electronic control units allowed per season. It is the longest season in Formula 1 history; burning the parts of the power supply unit is already a bad sign. The Finn said last week he had concerns about completing a full race distance despite the car looking quite fast; here is the litmus test.
WHAT IS TOMORROW?
The third practice is run in non-representative daylight and will therefore be more useful to teams trying to verify fixes for reliability issues than anything else. It will be interesting to see if Pierre Gasly, the quickest in the equally sunny FP1, climbs back to the top, which would suggest the car is working more efficiently in hot conditions and possibly underworking its tires otherwise.
Then, when the sun goes down, we’ll be ready for our first qualifying session of the year. The car’s configuration will be frozen, so time is running out for final adjustments to be made in time to be competitive for the Bahrain Grand Prix.