Bahrain GP FP1 | Vandoorne makes his F1 debut as Rosberg tops the session

First free practice at the Bahrain Grand Prix topped by Nico Rosberg.

As Fernando Alonso watched on from the sidelines, Stoffel Vandoorne stepped into his McLaren. But as the Belgian settled into his Formula One debut, Nico Rosberg was settling into the pace as he topped the session. 

Mercedes utilised the 90-minute session of FP1 at the Bahrain Grand Prix to rack up the laps on the soft compound tyres. But not only did they use the opening session of the weekend to ensure the car had no early technical gremlins, they experimented with putty on Hamilton’s brake air-in take.

The small piece of putty was used by the team to replicate the debris that blocked Rosberg’s brake in Australia and almost cost him to retire. Nico was able to manage his brake temps during the race as he could see the temperature rising on his dashboard, while with the new radio regulations the team could not inform him.

In terms of pace, Mercedes showed they had a strong hand as Rosberg and Hamilton led for the majority of the session. From their early laps, they led from p1 and p2 with a 0.081 second gap between the pair.

Come their second run, Rosberg later dropped a further 1.2 seconds after taking fresh soft tyres. As for Hamilton, he improved shortly after Rosberg but a lock up resulted in a half second deficit.

While Rosberg led Hamilton by just 0.081 seconds, Button sat in third place. The McLaren had set his time on the soft tyres while Mercedes’ expected rival, Ferrari, sat in the midfield after only running mediums. Come the chequered flag, Raikkonen would move into third place on the softs but Vettel remained in the midfield after only using mediums.

Jenson’s best time of the session saw him finish in 14th place, four tenths down on Vettel. But the Brit held a nine-tenth advantage over his team-mate for the weekend as Stoffel Vandoorne settled into his role.

The Belgian is racing in Bahrain in place of Alonso following the Spaniards Australian GP crash leaving him with fractured ribs. Stoffel’s first session of the weekend was relatively smooth with the driver not having any serious issues in his McLaren. The only slight moment for Stoffel was at turn 11 during the early stages as he left it too late to brake, locked up and missed the corner.

Down at Haas, Gutierrez appeared to have an early issue after he was forced to crawl back to the pits. However the team managed to send him back out and continue with the session. Similarly Grosjean later had a slight issue as his fuel filler flap flew off during a flying lap.

Comparing this year’s times to last, Nico Rosberg would have been able to take pole position during last year’s race with his 1:32.294 after being two tenths up on Lewis’ pole time. In terms of the fastest FP1 time from last year, Kimi Raikkonen’s 1:37.827 was a full five seconds slower.

Pos Driver Time Gap
1 Nico Rosberg 1:32.294  —
2 Lewis Hamilton 1:32.799 0.505
3 Kimi Raikkonen 1:34.128 1.834
4 Daniel Ricciardo 1:34.461 2.167
5 Daniil Kvyat 1:34.541 2.247
6 Nico Hulkenberg 1:34.601 2.307
7 Carlos Sainz Jr. 1:34.793 2.499
8 Max Verstappen 1:34.860 2.566
9 Romain Grosjean 1:35.000 2.706
10 Felipe Massa 1:35.006 2.712
11 Sebastian Vettel 1:35.073 2.779
12 Valtteri Bottas 1:35.174 2.88
13 Esteban Gutierrez 1:35.309 3.015
14 Jenson Button 1:35.440 3.146
15 Kevin Magnussen 1:35.490 3.196
16 Marcus Ericsson 1:35.728 3.434
17 Pascal Wehrlein 1:36.371 4.077
18 Stoffel Vandoorne 1:36.392 4.098
19 Felipe Nasr 1:36.719 4.425
20 Jolyon Palmer 1:36.939 4.645
21 Alfonso Celis 1:37.287 4.993
22 Rio Haryanto 1:37.714 5.42