Max Verstappen started 2021 as he finished 2020, in P1.
He topped the first day of running with a 1:30.674, the fastest of the field and one of only two drivers under 1:31, with Lando Norris the other.
The day was very positive for Red Bull with a car that on track looked much more user-friendly than it did in testing and the early rounds of last season.
Even as the track conditions worsened throughout the day, the Red Bull looked handy with the Verstappen going faster and faster late in the day.
Verstappen said after the session: “We had a very positive day and managed a lot of laps even though the track conditions were quite difficult. It was very warm with a lot of wind and we know the degradation is always high around here so I’m very happy with how it went.”
Verstappen completed 139 laps over the day which meant that Red Bull set the most laps of anybody, closely followed by Alfa Romeo and Alpine.
But a good first day doesn’t mean a championship challenge.
“We aimed for this number of laps and when you can complete a full programme like this the Team can also be pleased with the information we have. We don’t need to talk about pace yet and it isn’t really a discussion until we get to Q3 at the first race weekend – it’s only then you see the real pace in all the cars.
“The main thing is that the car felt nice to drive, so it’s a positive start.”
Head of Race Engineering at the team Guillaume Rocquelin was also postive: “Today went well. The conditions were pretty difficult and very windy, especially in the morning. It calmed down a bit in the afternoon but a lot of dust had been kicked up and it was very hazy and quite difficult to run in.
“In terms of objectives we’re really pleased, as we had a target in terms of the number of laps we wanted to get through and a fairly busy run plan and we were able to stick to both. Lap time is not what it’s about at this stage and I don’t think Max will be getting too pumped up about being at the top of the timesheet on day one.
“What’s more important is that we were able to follow the plan and do the laps. For Sergio tomorrow, the conditions should hopefully be a little better. It’s not supposed to be quite as hazy, but the wind is likely to still be quite strong.
“The plan will be pretty much the same for Checo, so fingers crossed we’re looking forward to another good day.”