Max Verstappen dominates practice for 2021 F1 Bahrain GP


Red Bull continued its pre-season form with Max Verstappen topping the times in all three practice sessions

Max Verstappen, FP1 Bahrain GP 2021

Verstappen and Red Bull set the pace in FP1

Frédéric Le Floc?h / DPPI

Max Verstappen swept all three practice sessions in Bahrain, dominating the final session ahead of qualifying for Red Bull.

Over a single lap the Dutch driver had the measure of both Mercedes drivers ahead of the qualifying session for the Bahrain Grand Prix. He ended FP3 0.7sec clear of Lewis Hamilton.

The long runs painted a more positive picture for the world champions, though.

Teams tested around the Sakhir circuit two weeks ago and Red Bull carried its form into the first Friday of the season, finishing well clear of the closest challenger in Valtteri Bottas.

Conditions are expected to change throughout the weekend, which will make setting up cars trickier than many hoped.

Here’s the rundown of what happened on Friday and what could unfold in qualifying and the race over the weekend.



Max Verstappen finished on top of the order in F1’s first session of the 2021 season. The Red Bull looked solid on track but Mercedes appears improved from testing, as expected.

The W12 was understeering in places, Lewis Hamilton’s first flying lap was good enough for the top spot temporarily while missing the Turn 13 apex by a wide margin. Bottas finished as the highest-placed Mercedes car behind the Dutchman, two-tenths down.

Related article

The RB16B looked balanced all throughout the lap while both Mercedes drivers looked like they were struggling with tyre temperatures and overheating them by the end of the lap.

Verstappen meanwhile was the only driver that maintained the tyre life enough to eke out the performance across the lap at the top.

Alpine struggled to 15th and 16th for Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso respectively in a disappointing first session under its new guise. Aston Martin struggled as well, with Sebastian Vettel ending 12th and Lance Stroll 13th.

Vettel’s car in particular looked unsettled on corner exit, the AMR21 snapping under acceleration out of Turn Three on an early hot lap.

Alfa Romeo will be pleased with its progress so far, ending the session 10th and 11th with Antonio Giovinazzi heading up Kimi Räikkönen, well clear of Williams and Haas and ahead of Alpine and Aston.



With the floodlights beaming in the night, conditions were much more representative to those we will see in qualifying and the race. Teams were immediately out on track to make the most of the hour session.

Both Mercedes drivers fell foul of the track limits change at Turn Four to lose their initial laps on the medium tyres, but Hamilton put his car back in the top spot shortly after.

Related article

Räikkönen found the barriers on the exit of Turn Three getting on the power too early, hitting the barriers and knocking the front wing off his car.

He recovered back to the pitlane but lost vital track time with an hour less track time than last season, heading into qualifying.

Quali sims started early, Verstappen putting the Red Bull on top after Lando Norris had bettered Hamilton’s soft tyre effort.

Alonso’s first flying lap was only good enough for 14th as Alpine’s slow start to the season continued. AlphaTauri rookie Yuki Tsunoda popped up to sixth-fastest, ahead of team-mate Pierre Gasly.

Race runs were a closer affair than the one-lap efforts with Hamilton and Verstappen running in the mid-1min 36sec and trading times sector by sector, narrowly in the Mercedes driver’s favour.

Bottas shaded Perez’s race times but did have several times deleted for track limits at Turn Four, but both were a fraction behind their respective team-mate’s pace.

The Finn was not pleased with his car by the end of the race sim though, describing it as “undriveable” over team radio.

A little further down, McLaren looked strong on the longer runs but not by much over the likes of Aston Martin and AlphaTauri and the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz.

Alfa Romeo’s FP1 pace was repeated under the night sky, struggling to match their midfield rivals. Tsunoda’s session was over early with a technical issue keeping him in the garage.

Once again, Verstappen’s Red Bull was the benchmark nobody could beat in another promising session for the team and for the prospects of a close race on Sunday.



40degree ambient and 50degree track temperature meant conditions were the complete opposite of what drivers will deal with in qualifying and race, so running was much more limited.

Valtteri Bottas was wrestling with his W12 around the majority of the track, and wasn’t the only driver to complain about a lack of grip.

Charles Leclerc repeated Kimi Räikkönen’s Turn Three spin from Friday but kept his Ferrari out of the barriers.

Lewis Hamilton had gone fastest on soft tyres but Max Verstappen’s first flying lap on hards put the Dutchman top by three-tenths of a second.

The Red Bull looked much more comfortable with conditions than any other car, with Verstappen able to use plenty of track on entry to the corner and get on throttle earlier than the rest.

Pierre Gasly was second to Verstappen but bettered his time with just over 20 minutes remaining as track temperature started to fall.

Aston Martin’s tricky start to 2021 continued on, Sebastian Vettel’s car losing a piece of bodywork from the front left of his car necessitating repairs and costing yet more track time.

Fresh softs for Mercedes restored a one-two with Hamilton leading Bottas and Sergio Perez by over 0.5sec.

Eventually Verstappen emerged for his lap and stormed to the top spot, 0.7sec clear of anybody albeit with a time set later into the session than his closest rivals.

Fernando Alonso though was one of the mysteries of the session, his fast time good enough for 15th only, 2.2sec off the ultimate pace.