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Formula 1

Explaining Bahrain GP's Ricciardo-led first practice session

by Ben Anderson
3 min read

Daniel Ricciardo set the quickest time in first practice for the 2024 Bahrain Grand Prix, with Formula 1 world champion Max Verstappen only sixth fastest, as a mix of run plans and tyre usage skewed our first picture of race weekend performance.

The most accurate like-for-like comparison of all 10 teams came in the early part of the session, as all cars ran the medium compound (C2) Pirelli and attempted some kind of performance run.

Naturally there are caveats over engine modes and fuel levels, but the order of the 20 drivers on that tyre was as follows:

Order after first runs (medium C2 tyre)

1 Verstappen 1m33.5s
2 Russell 1m33.7s
3 Perez 1m33.9s
4 Hamilton 1m33.9s
5 Alonso 1m33.9s
6 Leclerc 1m34.0s
7 Sainz 1m34.3s
8 Norris 1m34.5s
9 Stroll 1m34.6s
10 Ricciardo 1m34.6s
11 Tsunoda 1m34.7s
12 Albon 1m34.8s
13 Bottas 1m34.9s
14 Piastri 1m34.9s
15 Ocon 1m35.1s
16 Sargeant 1m35.3s
17 Zhou 1m35.7s
18 Gasly 1m35.8s
19 Magnussen 1m37.9s
20 Hulkenberg 1m38.2s

That gives us a provisional car pure pace order of:

1 Red Bull
2 Mercedes +0.2s
3 Aston Martin +0.4s
4 Ferrari +0.5s
5 McLaren +1.0s
6 RB +1.1s
7 Williams +1.3s
8 Sauber +1.4s
9 Alpine +1.6s
10 Haas +4.4s

This suggests, initially at least, that Mercedes and Aston Martin are slightly more competitive than they looked in testing; Ferrari and McLaren slightly less.

Haas we can disregard for now, as that team still appeared to be heavily focused on doing high-fuel race runs.

In the second half of the hour-long session, the run plans diverged.

Only three teams fitted the softest (C3) tyre: RB, McLaren and Sauber.

Those runs did at least occur at a similar point in the session, so they are relevant comparing within that small group.

That order was as follows:

Order on soft (C3) tyre

1 Ricciardo 1m32.8s
2 Norris 1m32.9s
3 Piastri 1m33.1s
4 Tsunoda 1m33.1s
5 Bottas 1m33.3s
6 Zhou 1m33.9s

By car:

1 RB
2 McLaren +0.1s
3 Sauber +0.5s

This gave Ricciardo his session-topping lap time, but more interesting was how competitive the RB was on this tyre compared to the McLaren, which appeared to be a handful to drive in the slow-speed corners.

The 2023 AlphaTauri developed into what McLaren considered to be the best car on the grid in slow-speed corners by the end of last season - so could the RB be a genuine threat to McLaren on one of McLaren’s historically weaker circuits? A theme to watch, certainly.

The other seven teams and 14 drivers made further attempts on the medium tyre through the rest of the session, producing the following order:

Later order on medium (C2) tyre

1 Alonso 1m33.1s
2 Verstappen 1m33.2s
3 Russell 1m33.2s
4 Leclerc 1m33.2s
5 Hamilton 1m33.3s
6 Sainz 1m33.3s
7 Perez 1m33.4s
8 Albon 1m33.5s
9 Stroll 1m33.8s
10 Sargeant 1m34.2s
11 Ocon 1m34.8s
12 Gasly 1m35.1s
13 Magnussen 1m37.4s
14 Hulkenberg 1m37.9s

By car:

1 Aston Martin 
2 Red Bull +0.1s
3 Mercedes +0.1s
4 Ferrari +0.1s
5 Williams +0.4s
6 Alpine +1.0s
7 Haas +4.3s

This looks very good for Aston Martin and Fernando Alonso, but with the significant caveat that his fastest time came very late in the session compared to those set by Verstappen and George Russell, for example. Alonso also used a new set of tyres in setting his best lap.

The Ferrari times were also set a bit later than the Mercedes' and Verstappen’s Red Bull time, but both drivers looked more comfortable in the second half of the session too.

Sergio Perez’s best lap came earlier even than Verstappen’s - but allowing for track improvement there did appear to be some condensing of the front of the field on the medium tyre.

Verstappen was also very unhappy with his car’s handling on the first runs, and also complained of some jumpy gearshifts. He did fewer laps than others in the top part of the timesheet too.

The other thing to note is the relative struggle of Alpine, which did look to be the slowest team (excluding long-run focused Haas) of those that attempted proper laptimes on the medium.

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