Sebastian Vettel led the way in the first Free Practice session for the Bahrain Grand Prix weekend, ahead of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen.
Vettel's time of a 1:32.697 saw the German beat Ricciardo by four-tenths of a second. Other notable performances came from Williams' Lance Stroll, who ended the session in sixth and talk of the town Fernando Alonso, as he dragged his McLaren to eighth; above both Mercedes cars of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, who didn't set representative times. And whilst one Ferrari topped the timing board, another propped up the field - Kimi Raikkonen suffered an engine failure halfway through the session.
Excessive heat means little
In the searing desert heat, track temperatures reached around 45°, with an ambient temperature in the mid-30s too - thus rendering this session meaningless in terms of the whole weekend.
The first twenty minutes saw little action - just Hamilton, Bottas and Ricciardo circulating the Sakhir track. Bottas had initial problems with grip - his Pirelli mediums overheating through the fast turns of 12 and 13. He also had a hairy moment at the final kink of Turn 16, a little too impatient on throttle application, treating the grandstand and watching world to a bit of drifting.
Hamilton took the early initiative, a 1:37.355 proving to be one-tenth quicker than Bottas on the same tyre, with Ricciardo around five-tenths behind that.
Force India and McLaren dedicated their early programmes to running flow-viz paint on their chassis, Sergio Perez and Alonso collecting the data needed, as the front three continued their long distance runs as the rest of the field started to creep out.
In the midst of that, times started to tumble, Hamilton improving the benchmark, venturing into the 1:36 mark; despite the dusty track causing others problems, most notably the Williams duo of Felipe Massa and Stroll. The former said over the radio: "It's really terrible, the grip level is just zero."
Vettel stretches his legs
On his first run, Vettel spilt the Mercedes, before the order threw up a few surprises. Carlos Sainz, Bottas, Hamilton, Stroll, Perez and Vettel all traded times at the top, all sporting the soft compound.
However, one man who wouldn't be joining them was Raikkonen, his engine expiring through Turn 12, with a potential electrical failure also adding to his woes at the same time. His session was over, as he embarked on a hot, solitary trudge back to the pit lane.
The early end meant that the new front wing, brought to Bahrain by Ferrari remains untested on track - with Vettel running the old configuration.
It didn't seem to hamper the German, as he shot into the 1:32 bracket - nearly one-and-a-half seconds faster than the trailing pack at the time; four-tenths adrift of Nico Rosberg's time at the same point last year.
Ricciardo proved to be his next challenger, getting within half-a-second on his first run on the soft tyres. The sister Red Bull of Verstappen also leapt up the order into third - a further four-tenths away.
With 20 minutes of the session remaining, McLaren's troubles continued, Stoffel Vandoorne stopped at the side of the track at Turn 10, with an ERS fluid problem. Meanwhile, Alonso moved into the top 10, just outside one-and-a-half seconds of Vettel's ultimate time.
The last 10 minutes saw no meaningful change to the order, the action coming from Massa flying off the track at Turn 13 with his brakes in a blaze.
That left Vettel fastest by four-tenths exactly from the two Red Bulls of Ricciardo and Verstappen. Perez and Massa rounded out the top five, with the two Mercedes languishing in 10th and 14th - Hamilton ahead of Bottas; but don't read into that too much.
|2||Daniel RICCIARDO||Red Bull||1:33.097||+0.400||22|
|3||Max VERSTAPPEN||Red Bull||1:33.566||+0.869||23|
|4||Sergio PEREZ||Force India||1:34.095||+1.398||22|
|7||Esteban OCON||Force India||1:34.332||+1.635||23|
|11||Daniil KVYAT||Toro Rosso||1:34.838||+2.141||13|
|19||Carlos SAINZ||Toro Rosso||1:36.079||+3.382||16|