The Thursday in F1 Bahrain GP saw Red Bull on the backfoot but feel not too shabby with race pace against Mercedes, Ferrari, Aston Martin and McLaren.

The first day of F1 Bahrain GP weekend saw Red Bull a bit on the backfoot results wise but post-session, both Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez presented themselves in a lot calmer way. They reiterated that they never expected the gap to be at one second.

They always knew the field to be closer even though Red Bull still has the advantage on the race pace side which is the case in Bahrain too as stated by Verstappen. The surprise thought was certainly Mercedes, who surprised themselves too.

They looked to have made a step up even in terms of the one lap pace. Although the race pace still is behind Red Bull, they are firmly in the podium fight against Ferrari, Aston Martin and McLaren which will make things interestingly with everybody on similar pace.

Verstappen: “I think it was not too bad, it’s just that I think it’s very close. Maybe some people around us already turned up the engine a bit in terms of top speed, but we just focus on ourselves, and I think from today, there were a few little balance issues from front to rear, but nothing big. It’s just about trying to find that sweet spot, and especially around here with the rough tarmac, when you get it into that sweet spot, you just pick up time and that’s what we’ll try to focus on a little bit more for tomorrow. I don’t say everyone around us did that, but a few did, so I’m not too worried about the gap to P1, for example. But it’s going to be very close, I think, in qualifying, so that I think’s going to be very nice. The long run, I was a bit happier about that, but there’s a few little things we can do better.”

Hamilton: “In FP1, we were surprised. It was very, very windy this morning, so it was a really difficult session I think for everyone. The track was so different compared to practice during pre-season testing last week. Otherwise it was feeling okay, but we didn’t really know where we stood on the C2 tyre, and then in this session, with the car, we made some improvements over the session. Again I don’t understand, it’s a shock to see us where we are. We’ll take it for now but we can’t get ahead of ourselves. We need to keep our heads down, keep working on the set-up. I think our long-run pace is nowhere near the Red Bulls, for example, and I think we were a lot closer so we’ve got some work to do there. My seat position is finally further rearwards, I’ve got a better feel for the car approaching the corners. There are areas that have been fixed and improved. It feels like a race car for once and the last two cars didn’t feel like that, so it’s a really good platform for us to work on and we’ve just got to keep our heads down and keep on chasing. I do, but in terms of achieving that I don’t know how necessarily with the new car.

“With a new car you have all new tools, everything’s been redesigned and so all the previous numbers and names of things are completely shifted, so you’re learning a whole new vocabulary when it comes to the car set-up. We’ve tested some of them but not all of them, because we only had a day and a half [in pre-season testing], so yeah, we have to see. I hope that we can make a step. I’ve got a bit of an idea but I don’t know how to achieve that yet currently with the set-up changes without affecting the other side of things, a single lap, so we’ll see. I think we’re going to be in the mix. I think it’s a bit too early to say, but I think we’re there or thereabouts with Ferrari and maybe Aston Martin and McLaren. I don’t know exactly where we lie with those guys, but we’re around those so it’s going to be close. A nice battle with us, I think if Max is in the front he will veer off as he has done for the last couple of years.”

Leclerc: “Mercedes look strong, which is a bit of a surprise. But we don’t know which fuel level they were running, so I think we’ll have all our answers tomorrow. At least on our side… no bad surprises. No good surprises either, just exactly as we expected the car to be. So we went through our programme. In FP2, it was a bit more… I mean, I did a small mistake on my fast lap, and it’s a one-lap tyre, so then that was it. But apart from that, it’s all about tomorrow now, trying to focus to do a step forward. I would be surprised if that is not the case, for sure. I expect to be there with the others; the only question mark is obviously Red Bull, how far ahead they are in front.

“But with the others, I would be surprised if we are not in the mix, yes. I feel quite good with the car, and it’s a much better start compared to last year, where last year we arrived at the first race and it was very difficult to know what exactly was the right window where we could optimise our car. Today it’s not the case, we know we’re in the right window for performing at our best with this specific car, and now it’s all about tomorrow, to try and anticipate the conditions of tomorrow and make the best out of this weekend.”

Alonso: “It felt okay, obviously we don’t know what the others are doing, we just complete our programme. We know the tyres quite well from the test so we sacrifice FP1 a little bit using the mediums, we concentrated even more on the performance. With two softs now in FP2 we learn a little bit from the car, a few set-up changes that we are happy with the result. So, let’s see tomorrow when we put everything together in qualifying, same for everybody. Definitely I am a little bit surprised that we are a little bit high on the times, but this can change dramatically if the fuel loads are different to everyone else. I remain calm. I am happy with the set-up changes we did today, I think we still need to find more performance. Twelve months ago I would say we were in a stronger position here in Bahrain. Let’s see – I’m happy. I’m going into the first qualifying of the season positive, thinking on a very long season so we need to start on the right foot for sure. It is not only Bahrain, we need to look forward also for the next coming event.”

Norris: “Not my best day, a bit messy from my part, just didn’t put everything together at all times but hopefully I got that out of the way and can do a better job tomorrow. So, a good day for us, we tried some things, and we progressed with understanding the car a bit more so yeah progress made, but plenty of things to try and improve on tomorrow. I think it’s still clear that Red Bull are towards the top, Ferrari and close and Mercedes were always the question mark. They were never going to be bad. It always gets closer especially in qualifying, even the Haas is up there and they apparently didn’t change the car at all! It’s always close in qualifying here in Bahrain so I think it’s going to be a tricky qualifying no matter what. Whatever we can get out of the car we need to get out.”

While the Top 10 looks to have five F1 teams in firm position, there will be still the fight for the lower rug of points place with several outfits eyeing a sneak in. Visa Cash App RB laid the stakes after Daniel Ricciardo topped the FP1 session.

The team had a decent practice run and they are firmly in the fight against Williams, who fared better in FP2 than FP1. The surprise of the pack was Haas especially on the one lap pace in FP2, when Nico Hulkenberg put the car in seventh out of nowhere.

The German has played down the performance aspect as they continue to struggle on the degradation side. But they seem to be a touch better placed than Stake F1 Team and Alpine, who did not look too great in their first run on Thursday.

Ricciardo: “It was a good day and good testing for us. We had our five minutes of fame in the morning, but as much as it was nice to see your name at the top, we knew not many teams put on the soft tyre compound in FP1 and that we’d get a true picture of where we’re at this evening. During the day, it’s sunny, so there’s a lot to take into account for our strong FP1 result, but track conditions change so much at night. We made some adjustments after FP1, and I think there’s a little more we can do, so I’m excited to get stuck into the data. I’m staying optimistic because we know some areas to find more time, and I feel if we put it all together, we can fight for Q3 tomorrow and points on Saturday. Let’s see if we can crack into the top 10.”

Albon: “We were relatively surprised by our pace in FP1 but by FP2, we found a good pace on the Medium tyre, however lost a little bit on the Softs. The cars around us are quicker than I’d like, especially the Haas, so we need to look at what we can do better. The car feels different behind the wheel but it’s not yet translating to performance, so we’ve got some work to do. Everyone seems to have made a big step over the break as well, so it’s difficult to say but it’s early days and there’s still a lot to learn from the car.”

Hulkenberg: “It was a pretty good Friday – the first one of the year – so not much of a reference yet. This morning, we continued to focus on long-run and race-pace stuff, trying a couple of things. This afternoon was more like a normal program. The pace over one lap was maybe a bit unexpected but also there’s no reason to get over-excited or over-ambitious now. I think there were a few people who didn’t do low-fuel runs and have more potential, but it’s going to be tight and fun to see. I expect a very tight field in qualifying, like it was last year, it will continue to be like that – so the smallest mistake can have a big impact. I’m not exactly sure where we’ll slot in, but we’ll put everything that we have into tomorrow.”

Bottas: “It was good to finally get the season underway with the first practice sessions of the year and get some more mileage in. I reckon we learned a lot since testing last week, working around and discovering more about the setup of our car: still, there is some extra work that needs to be done, especially on the single-lap performance. This’ll be our main task overnight and during the final practice session tomorrow morning. It seems we are still quite close to our main competitors, and it’ll likely come down to a handful of tenths in Qualifying tomorrow.”

Gasly: “We’re back on track for the first Practice of the season. We tried some things on the car throughout the day, which resulted in some positive learnings. The car was certainly trickier in the first session under the hot and gusty conditions. We reverted some things and I had a better feeling in the car in the evening session. We know the performance is not quite where we want it to be but we’re continuing to understand more and more each time we’re on track. Patience is required and we’ll try to make the best with the package we have in our hands right now. The team and I are working hard to keep finding performance. We’ll see what we can do tomorrow and on Saturday and I’m ready to keep pushing.”

Here’s how FP1 in F1 Bahrain GP panned out

Here’s how FP2 in F1 Bahrain GP panned out

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