Bahrain GP | Vettel sets the pace in FP1

First free practice at the Bahrain Grand Prix topped by Sebastian Vettel.

As the sun beat down on the Bahrain desert, Formula One hit the track. With drivers pounding around in the mid-day heat, while Bernie Ecclestone enjoyed the paddock as he made his return. Witnessing Vettel set the pace in the weekend opener, as Mercedes watched on happily after being ahead of schedule.

First free practice in Bahrain may be one of the more unrepresentative sessions of the year, with the heat beating down not representative of the race or qualifying. FP2, on the other hand, presents a more realistic comparison.

That said, FP1 does give the teams the chance to test their cars and check their cooling systems can cut it in the heat. Making sure breakdowns are more unlikely come the race, or give them time to find a solution should a problem arise.

For Ferrari, they may have ended the 90-minutes with Vettel setting the pace. But with Raikkonen’s car at least, a problem did arise and a solution is required.

Kimi Raikkonen was forced to pull aside mid-way through the session with smoke exiting the rear of his car as overheating in the turbo caused his Scuderia to stop. His retirement also comes after the team installed new cooling louvres for the weekend. While an electronics issue may also have occurred for the Finn, as his steering wheel display cut out prior to Raikkonen taking on a desert walk back to the pits.

At the time of Kimi’s breakdown, Mercedes had already taken to the track on the soft compound tyres. Running ahead of schedule after running early on the mediums with high fuel before switching to the softer rubber for a few quick laps on a dirty track. Accumulating the highest number of laps during the session than any other team.

The dirty track was particularly prevalent for Daniel Ricciardo when the Australian posted the first time of the day. Running offline and through the sand on route to a 1:38.985. As for Verstappen, Max was on track carrying out aero-checks with a large rake fitted to the side of his Red Bull.

Prior to Vettel setting the pace, Lance Stroll lowered the Mercedes benchmark as track conditions began to improve. With Sergio Perez and Felipe Massa swiftly moving in ahead of the rookie.

Vettel’s flying lap was not perfect either. With the German fighting the steering through the opening corners. A place Mercedes also had issues with traction.

Ferrari’s halted session – through Raikkonen – may not have come at the best time for the team either, as they arrived in Bahrain with a new front wing and floor for their car. Running just the front wing at first, which features a greater multi-element arrangement akin to the Mercedes and Red Bull.

Towards the end of the session, Stoffel Vandoorne’s McLaren also spluttered to a halt. With the Honda-powered waggon coming to a rest as it entered onto the first DRS straight. Cutting out as he applied the throttle, Stoffel suffered an ERS coolant issue that left him with no power deployment and was forced to park up.

Felipe Massa was another driver to be struck with an issue during FP1. Suffering a severe brake failure towards the end of running that pitched his Williams into a smoke engulfed spin.

“I lost the brakes completely,” Massa told the Williams pitwall.

While Pascal Wehrlein, making his return to Formula One after sitting out the opening two rounds through injury, progressed through the session uninterrupted. Ending FP1 just seven-hundredths down on Ericsson.

Bernie Ecclestone was also back in the paddock during FP1. Making his first return to the sport since his dethroning as its boss earlier in the year.

Bernie’s return also comes during the same week in which McLaren and Alonso announced the Spaniard would be skipping this year’s Monaco Grand Prix in favour of racing in the Indy500. A swap that would never have happened under F1’s previous ownership or McLaren’s prior boss in Ron Dennis.

For the Monaco Grand Prix, Jenson Button will make his return to Formula One as he obliges to his McLaren reserve driver contract to stand-in for Alonso. For now, though, Alonso carries on in the McLaren and claimed eighth place in FP1.

Pos Driver Team Engine Laps Time Gap
1 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari Ferrari 21 1’32.697
2 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull TAG 22 1’33.097 0.4
3 Max Verstappen Red Bull TAG 23 1’33.566 0.869
4 Sergio Perez Force India Mercedes 22 1’34.095 1.398
5 Felipe Massa Williams Mercedes 24 1’34.246 1.549
6 Lance Stroll Williams Mercedes 25 1’34.322 1.625
7 Esteban Ocon Force India Mercedes 23 1’34.332 1.635
8 Fernando Alonso McLaren Honda 14 1’34.372 1.675
9 Romain Grosjean Haas Ferrari 21 1’34.564 1.867
10 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes Mercedes 28 1’34.636 1.939
11 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso Renault 13 1’34.838 2.141
12 Nico Hulkenberg Renault Renault 13 1’34.927 2.23
13 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren Honda 10 1’34.997 2.3
14 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes Mercedes 27 1’35.002 2.305
15 Jolyon Palmer Renault Renault 19 1’35.068 2.371
16 Kevin Magnussen Haas Ferrari 21 1’35.579 2.882
17 Marcus Ericsson Sauber Ferrari 23 1’35.888 3.191
18 Pascal Wehrlein Sauber Ferrari 23 1’35.959 3.262
19 Carlos Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso Renault 16 1’36.079 3.382
20 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari Ferrari 6 1’42.333 9.636