Newly-crowned seven-time Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton continued to lead the way in 2020 by topping the opening practice session for the Bahrain Grand Prix. Following up on his record-equalling title triumph last time out in Turkey, Hamilton set the fastest time with a 1m29.033 to outpace Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas by 0.449 seconds in the first 90-minute practice at the Bahrain International Circuit.
FP1 in Sakhir is considered to be one of the most unrepresentative Friday practice sessions of the season due to it being held during the day in conditions that differ from both qualifying and the race which take place at night.
The drivers did get their first proper taste of Pirelli’s 2021 specification tyres with the latest test being run across both practice sessions in Bahrain following a ‘blind’ 30-minute programme which was conducted in Portugal last month, providing the teams with an important data-gathering exercise ahead of next season.
Now that both teams’ and drivers’ titles have already been settled, attention has turned to an intense midfield battle to secure third place in the constructors’ championship with four teams in contention to land the coveted spot inside F1’s top three.
Racing Point had the upper hand in the opening session at the first of two races to be staged in Bahrain as Sergio Perez, fresh from his first podium finish of 2020 at the Turkish Grand Prix, ended FP1 third-quickest – nearly a full second behind the dominant Mercedes duo.
Carlos Sainz was just 0.018s adrift of Perez’s time in his McLaren, while Pierre Gasly completed the top five for AlphaTauri.
The Red Bulls were next up with Max Verstappen marginally faster than Alex Albon in sixth and seventh respectively, with the Dutchman complaining of “understeer city” in his RB16 in the cooler conditions as he ended practice in the garage with floor damage.
Renault duo Esteban Ocon and Daniel Ricciardo were split by the second Racing Point of Lance Stroll as they rounded out the top-10 positions, ahead of Ferrari duo Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel.
In his fourth FP1 outing of 2020, Robert Kubica – deputising for Alfa Romeo regular Kimi Raikkonen – finished 13th fastest ahead of Romain Grosjean, who was fortunate to escape a high-speed spin at Turn 7 with only flat-spotted tyres on his Haas.
Roy Nissany was also in action marking his third FP1 appearance of the season for Williams, as he ended up slowest of all and three-tenths behind Nicholas Latifi in George Russell’s FW43.