Bahrain GP: Red Bull on top as Max Verstappen seals practice double in P2 ahead of McLaren's Lando Norris
An exciting, and close, start to Formula 1 2021 as Max Verstappen leads Lando Norris, Lewis Hamilton and Carlos Sainz in second practice for the Bahrain GP; Four teams split by 0.3s; Watch final practice live on Sky F1 on Saturday at 12pm, Qualifying at 3pm
By Matt Morlidge
Last Updated: 26/03/21 8:04pm
Max Verstappen underlined Red Bull's status as a serious threat to Mercedes by finishing a closely-contested first day of Formula 1 2021 on top, leading Lando Norris and Lewis Hamilton in Bahrain GP second practice.
In cooler night-time conditions that will be similar to qualifying and the race, Verstappen backed up his fastest time from the opening session by hooking up the quickest soft-tyre lap of the day, a 1:30.847 in his new RB16B car - which has carried on Red Bull's early 2021 momentum in Sakhir.
Norris was within a tenth of a second of the Dutchman as the impressive McLaren continue to look, at the very least, like the class of the midfield, with Hamilton the lead Mercedes in third, 0.235s off Verstappen's marker.
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There were also very promising signs for a competitive start to 2021 with four teams split by 0.3s in P2 as Ferrari's new signing Carlos Sainz was, encouragingly for F1's most successful team, just behind Hamilton in fourth.
"It's just a real dogfight," Mercedes boss Toto Wolff told Sky F1. "When you overlay the fastest laps and even the long runs, it's just so very close. Every kilogram could make quite a big swing."
While more representative than P1, second practice certainly doesn't guarantee the pecking order for the weekend - as highlighted by Bottas and Perez finishing only fifth and 10th in the other Mercedes and Red Bull - and Hamilton admitted the world champions have made a "definitely taken a step forward" compared to pre-season testing.
But Verstappen has got his season off to the perfect start with a Friday practice double.
"I was pretty happy but tomorrow is a different day," said Verstappen. "A good start to the weekend."
Hamilton added: "We thought Red Bull would be as fast as they are, if not faster, so we know they are leading at the moment.
"McLaren are looking great and it's great to see them taking the step. It'll be interesting to see what the long runs are."
McLaren a Bahrain threat? And who finished where in close midfield
McLaren have indeed generated one of the more intriguing storylines of F1 2021's first day; that they are not only the third-fastest team in F1, but now much closer to the front two.
Norris was third in first practice and then just 0.095s off the fastest time in the evening session, with new team-mate Daniel Ricciardo well-placed in sixth, too.
The new Mercedes engines coupled with the team's building momentum certainly seems to be a match.
"We look quick today but I think it's fairly obvious what's going to happen tomorrow," insisted Norris, downplaying McLaren's theat. "It's going to be the usual front four cars. Behind them it looks very close. The car does feel good."
Behind McLaren, AlphaTauri enjoyed a strong day with both rookie Yuki Tsunoda and Pierre Gasly in the top-10, while Lance Stroll was the lead Aston Martin, out-pacing Sebastian Vettel by four tenths.
Esteban Ocon similarly led his veteran multiple world champion team-mate Fernando Alonso for Alpine.
Alfa Romeo, meanwhile, appear to have moved clear of Williams and Haas in the Bahrain pecking order - although Kimi Raikkonen's Turn Two crash wasn't the 41-year-old's finest moment.
Mick Schumacher was 18th for Haas, ahead of Nicholas Latifi and Nikita Mazepin.
Bahrain GP Practice Two Timesheet
|1) Max Verstappen||Red Bull||1:31.394|
|2) Lando Norris||McLaren||+0.095|
|3) Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes||+0.235|
|4) Carlos Sainz||Ferrari||+0.280|
|5) Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes||+0.371|
|6) Daniel Ricciardo||McLaren||+0.384|
|7) Yuki Tsunoda||AlphaTauri||+0.447|
|8) Lance Stroll||Aston Martin||+0.546|
|9) Pierre Gasly||AlphaTauri||+0.636|
|10) Sergio Perez||Red Bull||+0.656|
|11) Esteban Ocon||Alpine||+0.754|
|12) Charles Leclerc||Ferrari||+0.765|
|13) Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo||+0.893|
|14) Sebastian Vettel||Aston Martin||+0.922|
|15) Fernando Alonso||Alpine||+0.923|
|16) Kimi Raikkonen||Alfa Romeo||+1.015|
|17) George Russell||Williams||+1.484|
|18) Mick Schumacher||Haas||+2.450|
|19) Nicholas Latifi||Williams||+2.553|
|20) Nikita Mazepin||Haas||+2.602|