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Bahrain GP: Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes surprise fastest on first day of F1 2024 with Red Bull adrift

Mercedes an impressive quickest on F1 2024's opening day, with Red Bull adrift so far in Bahrain, to set up fascinating first qualifying of the season; watch Bahrain GP qualifying on Friday at 4pm live on Sky Sports F1; season-opening race on Saturday at 3pm

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Watch the lap that took Lewis Hamilton to the surprise fastest time in second practice in Bahrain

Lewis Hamilton set a surprise pace as Mercedes finished first and second on an unexpected opening day of track action in Formula 1 2024 ahead of the Bahrain GP, with Red Bull's Max Verstappen only sixth quickest.

Hamilton, without a race win for two years and starting his final season at Mercedes ahead of his shock 2025 Ferrari switch, impressed in second practice under the floodlights of the Bahrain International Circuit to lead team-mate George Russell by 0.206s with a quickest time of 1:30.374 in the former champions' all-new W15 car.

Fernando Alonso was third for Aston Martin with Carlos Sainz's Ferrari fourth and McLaren's Oscar Piastri fifth.

"It's a shock to see us where we are but we will take it for now, but we can't get ahead of ourselves," said Hamilton.

"We need to keep our heads down, keep working on the set-up and try and extract more."

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Hamilton says he is much more comfortable with the Mercedes car this year after finishing fastest in P2 at the Bahrain GP

Red Bull, the reigning world champions and clear pre-season favourites heading into this week, were behind all their key rivals on headline pace, with Verstappen nearly half a second off Hamilton's benchmark.

But to what extent the RB20 was running close to its ultimate potential remains to be seen and will only truly become clear in 2024's opening qualifying hour at 4pm on Friday.

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Fuel loads and car settings in practice, as in testing last week, are unknown and it appears likely that Red Bull will have at least been running theirs reasonably conservatively to mask the car's true potential.

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This weekend's Bahrain Grand Prix will be taking place on Saturday rather than the usual Sunday slot!

But irrespective of how much the world champions are holding back, Mercedes certainly appear in stronger shape than they started each of the past two seasons in F1's current regulation era.

The team's British driving pairing had already reported the W15 to be far nicer to drive than either the 2022 or 2023 models, with the team confident it will provide a far more fruitful base from which to build on with upgrades through the whole 24-race campaign.

"Red Bull had two attempts at it and were half a second off at the end," said Sky Sports F1's Naomi Schiff of the surprise picture on the Practice Two timesheet.

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Sky F1's Naomi Schiff and Damon Hill assess how much we can read into Mercedes' performance after day one at the Bahrain GP

"Is that realistic? Toto [Wolff, Mercedes' team boss] used some colourful language in the team bosses' conference to describe [the fact that] we will only know in qualifying.

"It's positive news. We saw in testing that Lewis had a really strong race run and now we've seen him have a strong qualy run. It's also positive for Aston."

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Red Bull's Max Verstappen says his car is not far from finding its 'sweet spot' and is not concerned about its performance after day one at the Bahrain GP

Verstappen, who won last year's Bahrain GP at a canter to set up F1's most-dominant-ever title victory, said: "It was not too bad. It's just very close. Maybe some people around us already turned their engine a bit in terms of top speed.

"We just focus on ourselves. There were a few little balance issues from front to rear but nothing big, it's just about trying to find that sweet spot."

How real is Mercedes' day one pace?

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After an encouraging opening day of the season in Bahrain for Mercedes, George Russell is refusing to get carried away

Although stressing they would not be getting carried away by their position at the head of the Thursday order, Mercedes' drivers clearly appeared happy with how the race weekend had started.

Russell admitted their single-lap pace unexpectedly "looked really strong" but that they had work to do on race pace.

"We made some changes from the test and it exceeded our expectations, but ultimately the long-run pace, which is where it all happens, Max was still ahead of us," said Russell.

"It was very close with Fernando, with Lando and the Ferraris, and Lewis and I were very similar as well.

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There's plenty to look forward to on Sky Sports F1 as the start of the 2024 season edges closer

"So we've got a real fight on our hands in race pace, but, as I said, we're really pleased with the day, the car is performing really well, but we're not going to get carried away with the timesheets just yet."

Hamilton concurred that "our long-run pace is nowhere near the Red Bulls', for example" but feels that "we're going to be in the mix".

"I think it's a bit too early to say but I think we're there or thereabouts with Ferrari and maybe Aston and McLaren," added the seven-time champion.

"I don't know exactly where we lay with those guys, but we're around those so it's going to be close, a nice battle with us.

"I think if Max is in the front he will veer off, as he has done for the last couple of years."

Bahrain GP Practice Two Timesheet

Driver Team Time
1) Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:30.374
2) George Russell Mercedes +0.206
3) Fernando Alonso Aston Martin +0.286
4) Carlos Sainz Ferrari +0.395
5) Oscar Piasti McLaren +0.410
6) Max Verstappen Red Bull +0.477
7) Nico Hulkenberg Haas +0.510
8) Lance Stroll Aston Martin +0.517
9) Charles Leclerc Ferrari +0.739
10) Sergio Perez Red Bull +0.741
11) Alex Albon Williams +0.959
12) Daniel Ricciardo RB +1.142
13) Logan Sargeant Williams +1.341
14) Kevin Magnussen Haas +1.390
15) Yuki Tsunoda RB +1.507
16) Pierre Gasly Alpine +1.577
17) Valtteri Bottas Sauber +1.627
18) Esteban Ocon Alpine +1.653
19) Zhou Guanyu Sauber +1.674
20) Lando Norris McLaren +2.234

Sky Sports F1's live Bahrain GP schedule

Friday March 1

  • 10.10am: F3 Sprint Race
  • 12.15pm: Bahrain GP Practice Three (session starts at 12.30pm)
  • 2.10pm: F2 Sprint Race
  • 3.10pm: Bahrain GP Qualifying build-up
  • 6pm: Ted's Qualifying Notebook

Saturday March 2

  • 8.55am: F3 Feature Race
  • 10.25am: F2 Feature Race
  • 1.30pm: Bahrain GP build-up: Grand Prix Saturday
  • 5pm: Bahrain GP reaction: Chequered Flag
  • 6pm: Ted's Notebook
  • 6.30pm: Bahrain GP highlights

Watch every round of the new season, starting with the Bahrain Grand Prix this week, with the opening race on Saturday at 3pm. Stream every F1 race and more with a NOW Sports Month Membership

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