The Friday in F1 Bahrain GP saw mixed views from drivers regarding the weekend ahead as grip issues hampered many as strategy game is pondered upon.
After a sweep of both F1 Bahrain GP practice sessions, Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton reported slight displeasure with the behavior of his W11, after he was seen struggling for grip throughout FP2, most notably on the 2021 Pirelli tyres, which all drivers were forced to spend six timed laps on.
The Brit adds that work remains ahead for the F1 team to correct the set-up in time for Saturday’s Qualifying. “It felt a bit more like a test day though as we didn’t get to do a lot of qualifying style laps, instead it was a lot of discovery on next year’s tyres,” said Hamilton. “This track works the tyres completely differently compared to the last race in Turkey, it’s a night and day difference.
“Instead of doing a fast outlap to get temperatures into the tyres, you’re trying to go slow on the outlap to not put too much temperatures into them and keep them from overheating. I wasn’t particularly happy with the balance of the car, but everyone is probably in a similar position as the track was quite slippery and dusty.
Coming home P2 and P3 in FP1 and FP2 respectively, Valtteri Bottas cautioned that Red Bull could be in contention on Saturday, after he, too, expressed that the car’s balance left something to be desired. “It was more challenging in the first session,” he said. “Both sessions were slightly messy with traffic and a few mistakes here and there, so there’s certainly more to come.
“I’m also not fully happy with the balance yet, we’ve got some work to do there. It’s tricky to say where we are competitively as we ran a different programme to everyone else, focusing on the new Pirelli tyres. I think Red Bull are certainly up there, they looked pretty good in FP2. The main challenge in Bahrain is always overheating of the tyres, something we haven’t had for a few races, so we need to adapt our different driving style accordingly.”
Splitting the Mercedes pair in FP2 was Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who – after coming P6 in the afternoon session – found his way to second come the night-time practice. The Dutchman, who also tested Pirelli’s 2021 tyres in both FP1 and FP2, also said grip was sporadic on the new rubber.
He added that he and the team were unable to complete as many turns of the F1 circuit as they had hoped to during FP1 – a session during which he spun, but that FP2 – albeit interrupted – was more productive. “I had some test items on the car in FP1 and we didn’t complete quite as many laps as we wanted but the second practice was better,” he said.
“You never have the perfect balance and there are still quite a few things to understand, but in general it has been a positive Friday. Mercedes are quick but that is no surprise and from our side we will just focus on getting the best out of our car and in the race as it can be aggressive on tyres around here. We tried some of the 2021 F1 tyres in both sessions but it is difficult to know which compounds we were running.
“We were a bit all over the place in terms of grip and balance but that is something Pirelli can look at and it is the point of doing these tests,” Verstappen said. For his teammate Alexander Albon, Friday was a day to forget as FP2 saw the London-born Thai driver spin off at Bahrain’s final turn, as the 24-year-old’s Red Bull clobbered the outside barrier.
Though not a dramatic shunt, it was one that caused significant damage to his RB16, and it brought out the red flag. It was also the result of low grip, according to Albon. He suggests that a set-up change in FP2 cost him grip. “Straight away from FP1 the car was feeling pretty good and then in FP2 we tried a couple of things that didn’t quite work out,” he began.
“Later in the session I was a bit surprised by the lack of grip on track and the accident was at quite an awkward angle but I’m okay and it’s just one of those things but I’m sorry to the guys in the garage. It was just one of those things that I should have got pulled out of it really. “I did back out, but not enough basically. Throughout the year we’ve suffered with the rear F1 tyres but strangely here it seems to be the fronts.”
Albon adds that he also felt lessened grip on the 2021 F1 tyres, though it bears remembering that he crashed with current soft tyres fitted. “We also sampled the prototype tyres and swapped between different compounds but they didn’t have a lot of grip. In both of Friday’s practice sessions, he was outshone by Racing Point’s Sergio Perez, who came P3 and P4, with the latter result coming under the floodlights in a more representative FP2.
The Mexican driver, who had a close call with Verstappen during FP2, said that he was happy with his pace, but noted that strategy will likely be the great differentiator in the weekend, with fast-degrading tyres. “I’m happy with the pace: it’s an encouraging start, but it’s very clear that the margins are extremely tight – one or two tenths could make a big difference on Saturday,” he said.
“I think the most important factor this weekend will be the tyre management. That could make the difference in the really tight battle we’re in because it’s close between ourselves and our rivals. The red flag affected everyone’s long runs in FP2, but we were still able to learn a lot about the tyres and how the tyre wear can influence strategy in the race.”
Teammate Lance Stroll said that he was able to fulfill all his testing programmes despite interruptions, the second of which came when a dog found its way into the track. Renault appeared similarly competitive, albeit more so with Daniel Ricciardo in FP2 than with either driver in FP1. The Australian, who finished FP2 in P5, said their race pace looks “solid,” as he added that a two-stop competition can be expected on Sunday.
Ricciardo tested a 2021 F1 floor with his mandatory 2021 tyres, driving what will likely look similar to the French team’s challenger next year. “Our afternoon session wasn’t anything spectacular but, in the evening, we made some adjustments and we’re in a much better place, so I’d say we’re there or thereabouts,” he said.
“The tyres are going to get pretty chewed up around here, so a two-stop is likely and that would be the first one in the dry we’ve seen in a while. We did some race simulations in Free Practice 2 and we’re looking fairly solid.” In the other Renault, Esteban Ocon said that his test programme was delayed, but nonetheless completed.
Ocon added that his pace was promising, even on a high fuel load – which both drivers of the team ran at the session’s end. McLaren’s Carlos Sainz enjoyed a “good” Friday at Bahrain, where he was fourth in FP1 and 13th in FP2 – the latter he set his best on the medium tyres. Like Ricciardo, predicted a strategically-complex F1 race, particularly with all three compounds functioning well.
“We expect another tight battle again this weekend with our main competitors, but it’s impossible to say who has the edge,” said Sainz. “In terms of degradation, it’s a bit of a special weekend because I don’t think anyone’s going to be capable of doing a one-stop on Sunday, so we are up for interesting strategies during the race. All three compounds are working well, and all three could be used in the race.
Teammate Lando Norris, in the other McLaren calling it a “tricky day”, but a productive one at that. Friday left Ferrari feeling that they have considerable work ahead of them, with Charles Leclerc pointing out that, at a F1 track at which they historically been successful, they are unable to find the pace that they have enjoyed in the past.
The Monegasque driver called it a “difficult” day, but remains confident in his team’s ability to correct. “It’s been a difficult first day,” said Leclerc. “I was expecting to do a bit better because traditionally this is has been very strong track for the F1 team in the past few years, but today, we seemed to struggle quite a bit more.
“But we are usually pretty good at fixing the issues overnight. I think it’s pretty clear what we need to do to improve. It’s just the balance really, as through the corners it’s very tricky and it’s quite difficult to manage the car and I made a few mistakes. The times are all extremely close, so any gains we make can result in a big difference,” he said, with Sebastian Vettel – driver of the other Ferrari – noting that condition changes had little impact on his performance across FP1 and FP2.
AlphaTauri’s day was a promising one, with Pierre Gasly calling it one of the best Fridays enjoyed by the F1 team this year. The Frenchman, though, did note that there are areas in which they can still improve. His teammate Daniil Kvyat complained about poor car balance in FP1, but this was corrected in FP2, he said.
Having handed his car over to Robert Kubica for FP1, Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen said his car felt reasonably good in FP2, while Antonio Giovinazzi suggested the same after his full day of running, and similarly stated that there remains work to be done before Saturday’s Qualifying session.
At Haas, meanwhile, both drivers were surprised to see rain in the morning – long before the F1 sessions began, and reported that they spent Friday working on a race set-up. Williams’ George Russell was disappointed to have his sole session – FP2 – interrupted, after Formula 2’s Roy Nissany stepped into his car for FP1. In the other Williams, Nicholas Latifi noted the high tyre degradation.
The FIA, meanwhile, released the COVID-19 update of the 4,887 tests undertaken between November 20 and 26. There were a total of nine positive cases which included the already known case of Red Bull’s Jonathan Wheatley. The overall tally now sits at 84 from over 60000 tests done since the re-start of 2020.
Here’s crash video of Albon: https://twitter.com/F1/status/1332369595173310466
Here’s video of dog on track: https://twitter.com/F1/status/1332377544360910850
Here’s how FP1 of F1 Bahrain GP panned out
Here’s how FP2 in F1 Bahrain GP panned out
Here’s news on Red Bull having COVID-19 case
Here’s last weekend’s COVID-19 news