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Bahrain Grand Prix: Red Bull 'miles off' as 'shocked' Lewis Hamilton leads Mercedes practice 1-2

Bahrain Grand Prix: Red Bull 'miles off' as 'shocked' Lewis Hamilton leads Mercedes practice 1-2

Lewis Hamilton raised hope of taking the fight to Red Bull's Max Verstappen at this weekend's Bahrain Grand Prix after finishing fastest in practice.

The seven-time world champion led a Mercedes one-two under the lights of the Sakhir Circuit, with Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso third and the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz fourth.

World champion Verstappen finished sixth, nearly half-a-second back for Red Bull.

Verstappen had been regarded as the heavy favourite heading into Saturday's F1 curtain raiser in the Gulf kingdom. But the Dutch driver bemoaned the handling of his machine in the first running and then failed to match the speed of the Mercedes drivers later in the day.

The Silver Arrows went under the radar at last week's test in Bahrain, but they were quietly optimistic heading into Friday's running - and the second session belonged to the team that once dominated the sport.

Hamilton, who has not won a race for two years, was back at the top of the order as the seven-time world champion enjoyed a two-tenth margin to team-mate George Russell, with Alonso 0.286 seconds off the pace.

“It’s been a crazy day,” said the Brit post-practice. “I was late this morning and P1 is a surprise. It was very, very windy this morning so a difficult session for everyone. Otherwise it was feeling okay but we didn’t know where we stood on the C2 tyre.

“The [afternoon] session, we made some improvements. I don’t understand, it’s a shock to see us where we are but we won’t get ahead of ourselves. We’ll keep our heads down, we need to keep working on the setup and try to extract more. The long-run pace is nowhere near Red Bull’s, we need to work there.”

Red Bull's preparations for the new season have been overshadowed by the "inappropriate behaviour" investigation into team principal Christian Horner, allegations which he has now been cleared of.

But the world champions were surprisingly off the pace in both sessions on Thursday. With Verstappen appearing to be in trouble, team-mate Sergio Perez was only ninth in the order.

"Everything is s***," yelled Verstappen over the radio during the first session. "Like, miles off."

In the morning session, Daniel Ricciardo finished fastest. The Australian - driving for the newly rebranded RB team - saw off Lando Norris by just 0.032secs, with Oscar Piastri third in the other McLaren.

Ricciardo was dropped by McLaren at the end of 2022, but he was handed a lifeline by Red Bull's junior team midway through last season. He finished 11th in the day's second practice.