Lewis Hamilton and his Mercedes team showed ominous pace in Free Practice for the Bahrain Grand Prix to head the field by a comfortable margin on the first day at the Sakhir Circuit, with Fernando Alonso completing the top three, a second down on Hamilton.
Having set the fastest lap ahead of team-mate Nico Rosberg in this morning’s first practice session using Pirelli’s medium compound tyre, the order was unchanged when the switch to the soft compound came during qualifying simulations in FP2, with Rosberg settling in behind the Briton, 0.36s adrift of Hamilton’s 1:34.325 pace, with Alonso a further 0.7s slower.
What stood out today was the time gain in using the soft tyre, with around two seconds being par for the grid. Felipe Massa’s quickest time of pre-season testing, a 1:33.2, is just over a second faster than Hamilton managed today as the teams used heavier fuel loads to put their cars through the race simulations.
Last week’s Malaysian Grand Prix winner also showed strong pace on longer runs, shadowed by Rosberg, as the teams concentrated on measuring the degradation of the soft tyre.
Rosberg saw a drop-off of just 1.3s across 11 laps on the soft compound, his time moving from a 1:38.8 to a 1:40.1. This was mirrored by other teams, although the gap to Mercedes sat at around 0.6s. Indeed, Mercedes’ pace looks as strong as has been seen so far this season.
Behind third-placed Alonso today was Daniel Ricciardo. The Red Bull driver has suffered some poor fortune in his short career with the world champions and will this weekend be looking to clinch his first points for the team. The Australian’s best time of 1:35.422 was 0.2s quicker than team-mate Sebastian Vettel.
The pair finished either side of Williams’ Felipe Massa and the McLaren of Jenson Button, who is this weekend celebrating his 250th Grand Prix start. Williams looked dry strong on the long runs, as did the Force India of Nico Hulkenberg, which looks set to dispute the significant points paying positions with Williams, Red Bull and Ferrari.
Daniil Kvyat maintained his impressive start to his career by taking eighth place for Toro Rosso, beating the second McLaren of Kevin Magnussen and Force India’s Sergio Perez, who completed the top 10.
Perez will, however, be making a trip to the stewards office following the session in relation to an incident with Rosberg. With Perez approaching the Mercedes quickly, Rosberg moved across the circuit and into the Mexicans path, forcing him in to evasive action across the track. The move was seemingly made in order to let Perez stay on the clean line and will likely see no repercussions.
Completing the fewest laps today was the Williams team. Felipe Massa was joined by reserve driver Felipe Nasr in FP1 and the more senior of the two Brazilians spent much of the session in the garage before eventually completing 11 laps.
It was a similar story this afternoon, as Valtteri Bottas reclaimed his seat and joined his team-mate in the garage until they finally took to the track in the final 20 minutes of the session, with Bottas taking 11th place.
Bahrain Grand Prix, Sakhir, Free Practice
1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m34.325s 28
2. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m34.690s +0.365 31
3. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m35.360s +1.035 28
4. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1m35.433s +1.108 28
5. Felipe Massa Williams 1m35.442s +1.117 13
6. Jenson Button McLaren 1m35.528s +1.203 21
7. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m35.606s +1.281 29
8. Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1m35.640s +1.315 31
9. Kevin Magnussen McLaren 1m35.662s +1.337 22
10. Sergio Perez Force India 1m35.802s +1.477 40
11. Valtteri Bottas Williams 1m35.920s +1.595 9
12. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1m35.972s +1.647 32
13. Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1m35.998s +1.673 18
14. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m36.366s +2.041 32
15. Adrian Sutil Sauber 1m36.962s +2.637 13
16. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1m36.975s +2.650 35
17. Pastor Maldonado Lotus 1m37.259s +2.934 24
18. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1m37.599s +3.274 23
19. Jules Bianchi Marussia 1m37.800s +3.475 15
20. Max Chilton Marussia 1m38.247s +3.922 10
21. Kamui Kobayashi Caterham 1m38.257s +3.932 33
22. Marcus Ericsson Caterham 1m39.136s +4.811 30