Fernando Alonso and Aston Martin backed up their promising Formula 1 2023 testing form with the quickest time in the opening practice running for the Bahrain Grand Prix, but pre-season favourites Max Verstappen and Red Bull are lurking close behind.
In fact, judging by the times logged in the late-FP2 race data gathering exercises and based on information supplied from sources from the paddock, right now it seems Red Bull remains the red-hot favourite for victory in the first race of the season. Behind, Ferrari’s potential remains clouded, while there’s fears of a sobering start to 2023 at Mercedes.
Here’s everything we learned on Friday at the 2023 Bahrain Grand Prix.
The story of the day
As is typical in the Bahrain event’s split day/night timetable, FP1 took place in the sunny and hot conditions that aren’t representative of the sessions that matter this weekend: qualifying and the race.
Several teams, including Ferrari and Mercedes, therefore eschewed even running the soft tyres, which Red Bull’s Sergio Perez used to top the times on a 1m32.758s, in FP1. Verstappen trailed in third, surprisingly feeling that he couldn’t replicate his very positive car balance feeling from testing.
Alonso was second behind Perez, his best effort late on the softs coming in 0.438s adrift. The most-high profile moment of the session was Carlos Sainz’s high-speed spin into the huge runoff area behind the Turns 9/10 plunging double left complex in his Ferrari.
Motorsport.com ventured trackside during the opening session and, from our vantage point inside the Turn 4 exit, it was clear the Red Bulls were the only cars not regularly struggling with rear-end instability as they planted the power out of the tricky, fast right-hand open hairpin at the end of the track’s second straight and DRS zone.
The Ferrari drivers looked solid most of the time, while Lewis Hamilton and George Russell were regularly snapping left as they fought to avoid going beyond track limits on the exit. Intriguingly, so did Alonso – the Spaniard catching a big sideways moment just before the halfway mark. But this didn’t appear to impact his pace once he switched to the softs.
Alonso ended Friday fastest, looking the strongest contender to take the fight to the Red Bulls
Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images
That speed didn’t stop when the lights came down for FP2, and indeed Alonso went 2.289s quicker than he managed in FP1 to top the second…
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