Lewis Hamilton off the pace as action gets under way in Bahrain
Lewis Hamilton was only seventh in first practice for Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix as Pierre Gasly finished fastest.
Hamilton arrived for the opening round of the Formula One season fearing his Mercedes machine will not be a contender for victory.
And, while the second session later on Friday will be more representative of the conditions for Saturday’s qualifying and the race – both of which take place at dusk – Hamilton might be alarmed by his apparent lack of pace.
Hamilton finished 0.750 seconds adrift of AlphaTauri’s Gasly, with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz second and third respectively.
Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate George Russell took fourth, one place ahead of world champion Max Verstappen.
However, both Hamilton and Russell set their fastest times on the quickest softest compound. But neither Ferrari driver or Verstappen opted for the fastest rubber, posting their best laps on the medium, more durable tyres.
Ninety-six days on from the contentious season finale in Abu Dhabi, Hamilton was back on track as he gears up for his 16th campaign on the grid and his pursuit of a record-breaking eighth world crown.
The sport has undergone its biggest rule change in a generation, with the cars radically revised in a bid to provide closer racing.
Hamilton’s Mercedes team have dominated in recent times, winning the past eight constructors’ championships, but there is a growing feeling they will not start the new campaign at the top of the tree.
Leclerc, the 24-year-old from Monegasque finished 0.364 sec adrift of Gasly, who also set his best time on the speediest soft rubber, as Ferrari bid to win their first drivers’ crown since Kimi Raikkonnen triumphed in 2007.
Russell was 0.436 sec slower than Gasly with Verstappen half-a-second adrift.
Niels Wittich is in the referee’s chair here after Michael Masi was axed as race director and he was called into action in the opening moments as bodywork fell off Esteban Ocon’s Alpine.
Wittich deployed the red flag for 13 minutes as the debris was removed from the main straight.
Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll finished between Verstappen and Hamilton, while his team-mate Nico Hulkenberg, deputising for the Covid-hit Sebastian Vettel, took 14th.
Lando Norris was only 16th for McLaren, with Hamilton’s former team-mate Valtteri Bottas, now of Alfa Romeo, propping up the order following an engine failure.
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