Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso set the quickest time in the opening practice running for the Bahrain Grand Prix, with support from his team. Pre-season favourites Max Verstappen and Red Bull also showed their impressive form, while also making sure to keep a close eye on their competitors. However, during late-FP2 race data gathering exercises and from sources in the paddock, it appeared that Red Bull remains the red-hot favourite for victory in the first race of the season. Mercedes also expressed concerns, with fears of a sobering start to 2023, while the potential of Ferrari remains unclear.
During FP1, several teams refrained from running the soft tyres, which Red Bull’s Sergio Perez used to top the times. Alonso was second behind Perez, and a standout moment was Carlos Sainz’s high-speed spin in his Ferrari. F1 Initiative bore witness to the session, and from their vantage point, it was clear the Red Bulls handled better on the track. Lewis Hamilton and George Russell were seen struggling to avoid going beyond track limits.
During FP2, Alonso and Aston Martin continued to dominate, with Alonso topping the session with a 1m30.907s. There was a gap of 0.169s to Verstappen in second, and Lance Stroll was seen rotating his steering wheel using his injured hand. There was also a gaggle of drivers within a one-second margin, raising expectations for a shock qualifying exit.
Verstappen’s 15-lap stint just about led the way on the race pace averages ahead of Alonso. During the late FP2 race simulations, the time produced by Alonso and Aston were very competitive, boding well for the 2023 season. Verstappen’s pace on race day seemed promising, the Scuderia was striking a downbeat tone, and Mercedes was struggling with rear-end grip.
However, as the usual practice smoke-and-mirrors games could throw up a shock, pre-season favourites Red Bull continues to remain the red-hot favourite for victory in the first race of the season. Even though Mercedes expects to be closer to Ferrari, the Scuderia’s predicted strong form from preseason remains clouded. There is an unseen factor that surely cements Red Bull’s place as favourite for Bahrain GP success. This factor is based on the understanding that correcting Verstappen’s long run for the set high fuel load he was clearly running, he is thought to be “in a league of his own” on race pace.