Nico Rosberg drew first blood in the Bahrain Grand Prix weekend as he was fastest by half a second in the first Free Practice session
Teammate Lewis Hamilton was second as Rosberg, chasing a fifth successive win after winning in Australia, set a 1:32:294 – already faster than last year’s pole position, with the Silver Arrows looking to build on a familiar 1-2 at Albert Park.
Kimi Raikkonen was third for Ferrari, although he was more than 1.5 seconds off the Mercedes pace as Ferrari, like numerous teams, did not show their hand.
Sebastian Vettel was an unrepresentative 11th as Ferrari stayed almost exclusively on the medium tyre, keen to learn more after they decided not to use it in Australia, meaning they fell to third from first. Both drivers also hit traffic on their lap.
Much of the talk going into this weekend, about matters on the track anyway, has been about whether Ferrari’s pace
in Australia, where they led until lap 35, was a flash in the pan or whether the can challenge Mercedes for the rest of the season.
Ferrari were eight tenths off in the much-maligned qualifying but got ahead in the race and before a red flag period, Vettel was four seconds clear of Rosberg. We won’t know more about the pace difference until further into the weekend.
As with the previous two years, the Bahrain Grand Prix will, like Singapore, be a night race and this first practice session was held in daylight at 4pm local time.
Therefore, results from this session do not show anything like the true form for qualifying and the race as teams used much of free practice to gather data.
It was a solid session for McLaren’s debutant Stoffel Vandoorne, despite the 24-year-old finishing way down in 18th, seven tenths away from teammate Jenson Button.
The Belgian replaces Fernando Alonso for this weekend, with the Spaniard suffering a collapsed lung and rib fractures following his horrific accident in Australia two weeks ago.
Haas F1 were another team to have a solid session as Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez were ninth and 12th respectively.
Frenchman Grosjean’s sixth place meant that Haas were the first new team since Toyota in 2002 to score a point on their debut, while Gutierrez was the second part of Alonso’s crash in Melbourne.
While sixth may not be the true pace of the American team at this stage, the team bearing a name seen more in NASCAR will be itching to build on that result.
The Toro Rosso duo of Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr were seventh and eighth, with the duo and in particular the irate Dutchman, making headlines for their battle throughout the Australian Grand Prix – Verstappen feeling they should have pitted him first.
Nevertheless, they appeared to go some way to backing up the pace shown from two weeks ago, where they qualified fifth and seventh, despite finishing down in ninth and tenth as they drew the short straw from the red flag in the race.