Home Sport Mercedes dominate Bahrain practice, Verstappen limps to sixth

Mercedes dominate Bahrain practice, Verstappen limps to sixth

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Seven-times world champion Hamilton lapped the 5.4km floodlit Sakhir desert track in a best time of one minute 30.374 seconds with Russell 0.206 seconds adrift and Aston Martin’s double world champion Fernando Alonso in third.

Mercedes’ George Russell (left) and Lewis Hamilton smile as they pose for a picture. File Picture: Mazen Mahdi, AFP

Abhishek Takle, in SAKHIR, Bahrain – Lewis Hamilton led teammate George Russell in a surprise Mercedes one-two at the top of the Thursday practice timesheets for Formula One’s season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen only sixth.

Seven-times world champion Hamilton lapped the 5.4km floodlit Sakhir desert track in a best time of one minute 30.374 seconds with Russell 0.206 seconds adrift and Aston Martin’s double world champion Fernando Alonso in third.

Reigning triple world champion Verstappen, who won in Bahrain last year and chalked up 19 victories in 22 races, was 0.477 off the pace.

“It’s a shock to see us where we are but we’ll take it for now,” said Hamilton.

“But we can’t get ahead of ourselves. We need to keep our heads down and keep working on the setup … I think our long run pace is nowhere near the Red Bulls for example so we’ve got some work to do there.”

Verstappen, who has led the Formula One standings for a record 39 races going back to May 2022, had headed into the weekend favourite to open his pursuit of a fourth consecutive title with victory on Saturday.

He ended up sixth in both sessions.

Carlos Sainz was fourth for Ferrari ahead of Australian Oscar Piastri in his McLaren.

Nico Hulkenberg put Haas in seventh ahead of Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll.

Charles Leclerc was ninth in the other Ferrari while Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez rounded out the top 10.

Mercedes, who endured their first winless campaign since 2011 last year, have redesigned their car for the 2024 season to make it less ‘spiteful’.

Their practice showing will offer Russell and Hamilton, who last won a race in 2021 and is replacing Sainz at Ferrari next year, encouragement of a return to the top step of the podium.

Hamilton said he was much happier in the car than last year, with a more comfortable seat position.

“I’ve got a better feel for the car approaching the corners but there are other areas that have been fixed and improved. It feels like a racecar for once and the last two cars didn’t feel like that,” he added.

Russell refused to get carried away by the timesheets even if the qualifying pace looked strong.

“We still need to try and understand why it was so good, we made some changes from the test and it exceeded our expectations but ultimately (on) the long run pace, which is where it all happens, Max was still ahead of us,” said the Briton.

“It was very close with Fernando, with Lando and the Ferraris and Lewis and I were very similar as well so we’ve got a real fight on our hands.”

Daniel Ricciardo ended the day 12th for rebranded Red Bull sister team RB. The Australian had gone fastest in the opening session of practice, run in unrepresentative conditions.

The race in Bahrain and the following round at Jeddah in Saudi Arabia are being held on a Saturday to allow the Middle Eastern kingdoms to host races before the start of Ramadan.

Qualifying will be held on Friday.

Reuters

Reporting by Abhishek Takle, editing by Ken Ferris, Toby Davis and Ed Osmond

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