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Hamilton and Verstappen trail as Alpine sidepod disintegrates in opening F1 practice

Hamilton and Verstappen trail as Alpine sidepod disintegrates in opening F1 practice

F1 News

Hamilton and Verstappen trail as Alpine sidepod disintegrates in opening F1 practice

Hamilton and Verstappen trail as Alpine sidepod disintegrates in opening F1 practice

Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton were left trailing in the opening first practice session of the new F1 season as AlphaTauri's Pierre Gasly took the honours.

F1 champion Verstappen was fifth quickest in his Red Bull, with seven-time winner Hamilton two places further back following the initial hour of running at the Bahrain International Circuit.

Instead, it was Gasly who held sway with a lap of one minute 34.193secs on the soft tyre ahead of Ferrari pair Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz, whose times were set on the medium compound, both around four-tenths-of-a-second adrift.

For reference, Gasly's time was 2.4s slower than Verstappen's leading lap from the three days of testing at this circuit last week. On this occasion, the Dutch driver was three seconds adrift.

As for Hamilton, he was a further two-tenths-of-a-second down on Verstappen, albeit with his time on the softs while the latter was on the mediums.

There was drama early on as the session was only seven minutes old when the sidepod on Esteban Ocon's Alpine disintegrated as he hurtled down the start-finish straight with Aston Martin reserve Nico Hulkenberg in close attendance behind.

As Ocon returned to the pits, and a red flag was thrown by one of the FIA's two new race directors in Niels Wittich, TV images focused on the gaping hole in the side of the A522.

The team soon confirmed it was naturally "investigating the issue", revealing it was a "new, upgraded sidepod" that was running for the first time.

The incident resulted in a 13-minute delay, and was not the only piece of bodywork to prove faulty as part of a diffuser worked loose from one car, as did part of a halo fin from another, with both unidentified

Compared to the three days of testing when the cars ran in sweltering conditions, the first day of the new season was in stark contrast, with temperatures just nudging 20 degrees Celsius, albeit cooler due to gusting winds that affected the cars.

That was noted by Mercedes' George Russell who at one stage commented: "Car feels very affected by the wind compared to last week."

With 15 minutes remaining Russell did at least depose long-time leader Verstappen from the top of the timsheet with a lap of 1:34.629s, albeit on the soft tyre.

Russell's advantage did not last long, however, as moments later Sainz managed to get his nose before Gasly then usurped the Spanish driver by half a second.

Russell was running the floor used during last week's test while Hamilton had a new floor developed in a bid to try and combat the vehement bouncing of the W13 that has been a thorn in the pace and performance of Mercedes' latest challenger.

Russell eventually finished fourth on the timesheet, with Aston Martin's Lance Stroll sandwiching Verstappen and Hamilton in sixth.

Alpine's Fernando Alonso, Yuki Tsunoda in the AlphaTauri and Sergio Perez in his Red Bull completed the top 10, the latter almost a second down on Gasly.

In the bottom half of the standings, rookie Guanyu Zhou performed admirably to wind up 11th quickest, while Hulkenberg was a creditable 14th on his first run out in this year's Aston Martin, the German standing in for compatriot Sebastian Vettel who tested positive for Covid.

As for McLaren, Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo were a surprisingly lowly 16th and 17th, separated only by a tenth of a second but two seconds down on Gasly.

For Ricciardo, it was his first outing since the conclusion of the first pre-season test in Barcelona almost four weeks ago after illness and Covid sidelined him for the second test.

The theory was that McLaren was testing out its new brake cooling system after its issues in testing and which requires a heavy fuel load for optimum understanding.

Valtteri Bottas propped up the standings without a time to his name due to power unit issues with his Alfa Romeo.

Bahrain first practice results

1. Pierre Gasly [AlphaTauri] 1:34.193

2. Charles Leclerc [Ferrari] +0.364

3. Carlos Sainz [Ferrari] +0.418

4. George Russell [Mercedes] +0.436

5. Max Verstappen [Red Bull] +0.549

6. Lance Stroll [Aston Martin] +0.621

7. Lewis Hamilton [Mercedes] +0.750

8. Fernando Alonso [Alpine] +0.807

9. Yuki Tsunoda [AlphaTauri] +0.835

10. Sergio Perez [Red Bull] +0.857

11. Guanyu Zhou [Alfa Romeo] +0.860

12. Esteban Ocon [Alpine] +0.958

13. Nicholas Latifi [Williams] +1.451

14 Nico Hulkenberg [Aston Martin] +1.622

15 Alex Albon [Williams] +1.730

16. Lando Norris [McLaren] +2.111

17. Daniel Ricciardo [McLaren] +2.209

18. Mick Schumacher [Haas] +2.343

19. Kevin Magnussen [Haas] +2.611

20. Valtteri Bottas [Alfa Romeo] no time

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