Sakhir GP: Russell tops FP1 in dream Merc debut, Honda power looks strong

George Russell led his first practice for Mercedes while his teammate Valtteri Bottas looked to be overdriving the car under pressure, and could only manage fourth.

Honda-powered cars filled the rest of the top six led by Max Verstappen, who split the Black Arrows pair. Alex Albon was having a strong session and led Verstappen at one point, but went off at turn two which cut his session short.

In the first F1 running on the Bahrain outer layout, Russell’s time was 54.456s – even faster than the predictions that had been modelled coming into the weekend. Drivers racked up circumnavigations at quite a rate – with several completing nearly 50 laps.

Debutants Pietro Fittipaldi and Jack Aitken brought up the tail of the timesheet and put themselves on the back foot by damaging their tyres with significant time left in the session. They both completed around 15 laps less than their teammates.

But in the teammate battle everyone was looking forward to, Bottas seemed to struggle under the pressure. He had to abort several timed runs due to errors, including a lock-up at turn one late-on.

While the fact that he’s three-tenths behind his teammate already could be excused given the usual variables in free practice, it’s his rushed driving style that created the errors over the 90 minutes and will be the biggest cause for concern.

Behind him the two AlphaTauris recreated the strong pace they showed throughout the Monza weekend and rounded out the top six led by Daniil Kvyat.

Renault, rumoured to have the second-strongest power unit after Mercedes, were seventh and ninth. That made them the best-placed team in the fight for third in the constructors’ championship, but they’ll need more than that to overhaul the 26-point gap to McLaren.

Ferrari had worried they’d struggle here with car balance but ran a respectable eighth and tenth, led by Sebastian Vettel who has the joint-most wins in Bahrain.

Sergio Perez was twelfth behind his teammate, and was still within a second of Max Verstappen, highlighting how close the running order will be this weekend.

Of the two debutants, Fittipaldi put on the better showing but was a second behind his teammate, and complained that he’d destroyed his tyres before the end of the session.

Jack Aitken was a tenth behind the Brazilian, and suffered a spin which also cut short his time on the track.