Formula 1

Mercedes stand-in George Russell unexpectedly heads the field in Sakhir GP FP1

3 Mins read
Credit: Steve Etherington

The FIA Formula 1 World Championship has officially pitched it’s tents at the third all new track layout of the year for the long-awaited Sakhir Grand Prix– the second of two races in the Bahrain desert- and after an hour and a half of practice running it was Lewis Hamilton’s stand-in George Russell who put in a prodigious performance to top the timesheets.

Unlike the previous single-track double-headers at Silverstone and the Red Bull Ring this year, this second race is using a new track layout, and the twenty cars have been zooming around the relatively unknown almost-oval outer circuit where lap-times achieved low fifties- the shortest times F1 has ever seen.

Pirelli’s tyre choices for this weekend are the same as they were last time out: The C2, C3, and C4 compounds, but strategies may vary due to the unknowns of the shorter track. This race also marks three exciting unplanned driver changes. Brazilian Pietro Fittipaldi is filling in for Romain Grosjean at Haas F1 Team after his horror crash at the first Bahrain race saw him hospitalised, whilst George Russell is taking to the coveted Mercedes W11 as Lewis Hamilton remains in COVID-19 isolation. The Briton is being replaced by Formula 2 race-winner Jack Aitken at Williams Racing.

Russell settling into the Mercedes W11 – Credit: Steve Etherington

As the sun began to set over the Bahraini desert, The session began at 13:30 GMT and Antonio Giovinazzi was the head of a train of cars out the garage to test the limits of the twilight Sakhir circuit. Just a few minutes in a brief VSC was deployed, but all was quickly rectified and shortly after we got out first onboard glimpse of the lightning-fast lap with Carlos Sainz Jr.

George Russell was another out the pits early on with his sights set firmly on getting acclimatised with the all-new track, and the Mercedes stand-in referenced ‘a lot of sand’ blowing through turn six. Seeing as the track is located in the middle of the Arabian desert, a dusty surface is to be expected.

The light soon faded, and around half an hour in Charles Leclerc made the first trip across the gravel after losing the rear in turn four. The Scuderia Ferrari driver was unharmed, and so he went on his way unfazed. The Monegasque finished the session tenth, marking a tricky start to his weekend.

A second incident came soon after, as Pierre Gasly was left awkwardly hanging on to his right wing-mirror for half a lap after it unexpectedly snapped through the bumpy sector two. The Frenchman boxed to repair the issue, and the relatively easy fix ensured his running wasn’t compromised too heavily. Gasly, who won his first race earlier this year, ended up sixth.

Jack Aitken also had a moment on his debut as he dropped it into the gravel at turn three- most likely due to a lack of traction. He seemed to be having a hard time wrestling his Williams around the circuit to start, but he quickly began to make progress He ultimately ended up with twentieth for a rookie- a fairly representative finish for a rookie.

Aitken under the Sakhir sun – Credit: Williams Racing

Interestingly, a number of drivers appeared to struggle with the undulation changes present through the second part of the lap- especially turns six and seven. Sergio Pérez’s trip through was one of the most significant, as the Mexican flat-spotted his tyres following a mighty lockup.

Staying true to his unfortunate practice woes, Alexander Albon took a trip off the beaten track at turn three and royally destroyed his red-marked soft tyres after a violent spin saw him narrowly escape the clutches of the barriers. He returned to the pits the same lap-citing ‘pretty poor vibrations’, and boxed for fresh rubber. Valtteri Bottas was another who struggled to preserve his tyres; the Finn locked his front left on a multitude of occasions- no doubt worrying him on a weekend where he needs to demonstrate his aptitude.

The session concluded after a thrilling hour and a half of running, and for the first time in his career George Russell topped the timesheets of a Formula 1 practice session with the fastest lap in F1 history- a 0:54.546. The two Aston Martin Red Bull Racing car’s of Max Verstappen and Alex Albon finished second and third respectively (as they did last weekend) and Bottas and Kvyat completed the top five. Then followed Gasly, Esteban Ocon, Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo and Charles Leclerc in the fastest ten.

Free Practice Two begins in just under two hours time, and Russell will be hoping to replicate his standout performance once more.

Free Practice One Timings:

163George RussellGBRMercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team54.546N/A49
233Max VerstappenNEDAston Martin Red Bull Racing54.7220.176s29
323Alexander AlbonTHAAston Martin Red Bull Racing54.8110.265s18
477Valtteri BottasFINMercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team54.8680.322s44
526Daniil KvyatRUSScuderia AlphaTauri Honda55.0110.465s40
610Pierre GaslyFRAScuderia AlphaTauri Honda55.1660.620s37
731Esteban OconFRARenault DP World F1 Team55.2730.727s49
85Sebastian VettelGERScuderia Ferrari55.2810.735s40
93Daniel RicciardoAUSRenault DP World F1 Team55.3790.833s39
1016Charles LeclercMONScuderia Ferrari55.4490.903s35
1118Lance StrollCANBWT Racing Point Formula One Team55.5581.012s41
1211Sergio PérezMEXBWT Racing Point Formula One Team55.7161.170s33
1355Carlos Sainz Jr.ESPMcLaren F1 Team55.7571.211s41
147Kimi RäikkönenFINAlfa Romeo Racing55.7831.237s32
1599Antonio GiovinazziITAAlfa Romeo Racing55.8581.312s35
164Lando NorrisGBRMcLaren F1 Team56.0781.532s47
1720Kevin MagnussenDENHaas F1 Team56.1301.584s37
186Nicholas LatifiCANWilliams Racing56.7642.218s48
1951Pietro FittipaldiBRAHaas F1 Team57.0772.531s24
2089Jack AitkenGBRWilliams Racing57.1872.641s33
Credit: Renault Sport Media
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Sixteen-year-old Motorsports Journalist covering Formula One for TCF, follow at @jamesthomasf1 on Twitter
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