Max Verstappen on Saturday completed a clean sweep of all three practice sessions for the Bahrain Grand Prix when he beat defending champion Lewis Hamilton by seven-tenths of a second in the third and final hour ahead of qualifying.
Driving with a smoothness that oozed confidence in his Red Bull car, the Dutchman clocked a best lap of one minute and 30.577 seconds in the final minutes to outpace Mercedes’ seven-time champion Hamilton by 0.739 seconds.
It was a clear statement of intent that endorsed his supremacy in pre-season testing, leaving Mercedes needing a boost to stay in serious contention in qualifying, scheduled to be run in cooler conditions under floodlights later Saturday.
Pierre Gasly was third for AlphaTauri ahead of Valtteri Bottas in the second Mercedes, Sergio Perez in the second Red Bull and Carlos Sainz, who was sixth for Ferrari.
Kimi Raikkonen was seventh for Alfa Romeo ahead of Alpine’s Esteban Ocon, Lance Stroll in the leading Aston Martin and Daniel Ricciardo of McLaren.
Former champions Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso were 14th and 15th for Aston Martin and Alpine while Mick Schumacher, son of their erstwhile rival and seven-time champion Michael, was 18th for Haas.
After a lengthy morning meeting of team bosses to discuss the introduction of sprint races this year, the session began in very hot and dry conditions with an air temperature of 39 degrees and the track at 49.
Japanese rookie Yuki Tsunoda of AlphaTauri, hoping to build on an impressive opening day, was the first and only man out before Bottas joined the fray after 11 minutes.
Despite a frustrating Friday, when the Finn fought for control of his car, he has a record to maintain as he bids to complete a hat-trick of season-opening wins.
- Flying Verstappen -
Fernando Alonso, back in F1 with Renault’s Alpine-branded team, was next on track. He won on the last two occasions when Bahrain was the season-starter.
Bottas had some early laps annulled for running beyond track limits, notably at Turn Four, as he sought the stability and balance taken away, in his Mercedes, by the new aerodynamic rules introduced this year.
Sainz topped the times for Ferrari after 20 minutes, the Maranello new boy, clocking 1:33.931. Hamilton soon topped that by a second on softs but was overhauled when Verstappen, on hards, finally joined in at mid-session, the Red Bull going top in 1:32.617.
As the temperatures began to fall, the conditions gradually changed and AlphaTauri’s duo took advantage – Gasly going top, two-tenths ahead of Verstappen, and Tsunoda rising to sixth before Sainz went quickest on mediums.
Bottas, on softs, finally delivered the flying lap that counted to go top with 18 minutes remaining only for Hamilton to beat him in 1:31.316.
The champion team were one-two again and the champion driver was beating his heir apparent, Verstappen, by 1.3 seconds before Red Bull sent their main man out on mediums and his new team-mate Perez on softs.
The Mexican took third, six-tenths down, courtesy of a final sector blast that hinted his Honda engine may be a match for the Mercedes, before the final flurry saw Verstappen fly clear.