F1 2021, Bahrain Grand Prix, qualifying (2am Sunday AEDT) — F1 will learn on Saturday whether Mercedes’ pre-season struggles are real, or yet another empty promise as qualifying at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix takes place.
The session is the first time the true short-run pace of cars will be exposed in 2021, giving some indication of whether the F1 pecking order has shifted away from Lewis Hamilton, and Mercedes, whatsoever.
Daniel Ricciardo, meanwhile, will be looking to start his McLaren career on the right foot in his first race weekend since leaving Renault.
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The Australian was slower than teammate Lando Norris in Friday practice, coming ninth in the first session and fifth in the second.
“I’m still getting there,” Ricciardo said after the session. “I still want to find a few things in the car and obviously within myself. In FP2 I made some inroads, but hopefully I’ll find another step tomorrow to get more where I want to be.”
Meanwhile, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said this weekend’s race will be a ‘real dogfight’ after Red Bull’s Max Verstappen ran strongly on Friday.
He was the fastest in both practice sessions, while Hamilton was third-quickest at more than two-thirds of a second adrift of the Red Bull.
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The times continued a trend from pre-season that saw Red Bull test strongly, and Mercedes poorly.
Nonetheless, Mercedes has often hidden its true pace until the first qualifying session of the year.
“We are definitely closer here than we were in testing, but I wouldn’t know where to position us versus Red Bull,” Wolff said after Friday practice.
Verstappen similarly wasn’t willing to give much away, saying after a successful opening day: “It was alright.
“Of course, the conditions are different compared to testing, but it’s alright. I have a good feeling with the car and we still have things to look at tyre-wise and balance, but overall I’m happy.
“Tomorrow (for qualifying) is a different day – and it will be even windier, which with these cars makes it quite tricky.”
FRIDAY PRACTICE TWO RESULTS
Max Verstappen (NED/Red Bull-Honda) 1:30.847,
Lando Norris (GBR/McLaren-Mercedes) 1:30.942.
Lewis Hamilton (GBR/Mercedes) 1:31.082,
Carlos Sainz (ESP/Ferrari) 1:31.127, Valtteri Bottas (FIN/Mercedes) 1:31.218,
Daniel Ricciardo (AUS/McLaren-Mercedes) 1:31.230,
Yuki Tsunoda (JPN/AlphaTauri-Honda) 1:31.294,
Lance Stroll (CAN/Aston Martin-Mercedes) 1:31.393,
Pierre Gasly (FRA/AlphaTauri-Honda) 1:31.483,
Sergio Pérez (MEX/Red Bull-Honda) 1:31.503,
Esteban Ocon (FRA/Alpine-Renault) 1:31.601,
Charles Leclerc (MON/Ferrari) 1:31.612
Antonio Giovinazzi (ITA/Alfa Romeo-Ferrari) 1:31.740,
Sebastian Vettel (GER/Aston Martin-Mercedes) 1:31.769,
Fernando Alonso (ESP/Alpine-Renault) 1:31.770,
Kimi Raikkonen (FIN/Alfa Romeo-Ferrari) 1:31.862,
George Russell (GBR/Williams-Mercedes) 1:32.331,
Mick Schumacher (GER/Haas-Ferrari) 1:33.297,
Nicholas Latifi (CAN/Williams-Mercedes) 1:33.400,
Nikita Mazepin (RUS/Haas-Ferrari) 1:33.449.