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Formula 1 Bahrain Grand Prix 2024

How Verstappen and Red Bull misled rivals in Bahrain

After the first and second free practice sessions in Bahrain, there were some question marks. Is Mercedes really that fast and should Max Verstappen be worried? For now, the data show that Verstappen certainly seems to be the benchmark in terms of race pace.

Red Bull Verstappen Bahrain
To news overview © Red Bull Content Pool

Whether you look at the results of the second free practice, you would think that Max Verstappen did not have a successful day in Bahrain. The Dutchman only took sixth place in FP2, and was half a second slower than Lewis Hamilton, and that was secretly a small surprise, given that the competition was already proclaiming Verstappen World Champion after testing.

Watching the short runs of the second free practice session, Verstappen was indeed a bit short of speed. Compared to Hamilton's fastest lap, the Dutchman lost a lot of time, especially in the third sector.

Verstappen himself said the following about the big difference. "It didn't go wrong. It's close together. Some around us screwed up the engine a bit further for top speed. I'm quite happy with the car and we focused a bit more on the long runs."

And especially the point about top speed does matter. The third sector consists of a long straight and only two right-hand kinks.

On a side note, however, Verstappen only lost 0.094s in the first sector, where top speed is also important. Perhaps Red Bull's strong DRS makes up for something there. After all, there are two DRS zones in the first sector.

Check below the sector times of the two bantams. The text continues after that.

Best lap in FP2: Lewis Hamilton vs. Max Verstappen

Driver S1 S2 S3 Lap time
HAM 29.037 38.734 22.603 1:30:374
VER 29.131 38.834 22.886 1:30.851
+0.094 +0.100 +0.283 +0.477

Long runs

Overall, Hamilton was pleasantly surprised by Mercedes' speed. "It's a shock to see where we are now," he said.

"We need to keep our heads up and keep working on the set-up to get more out of it. Our speed in the long run is nowhere near Red Bull. We still need to work on that."

But does Hamilton have a point when he talks about Mercedes' long runs?

During the second free practice, a representative session in terms of time and conditions, the vast majority of the top teams drove a long run on the softs, and Verstappen did stand out on the C3 compound.

The reigning world champion drove a very consistent stint and almost exclusively posted times in the 1:36 range, barring a slower lap with traffic. The same was true for team-mate Sergio Perez.

Mercedes and Ferrari were less so. Hamilton drove a shaky stint through traffic, making Russell the best indicator.

The Briton was on average two to four-tenths slower than Verstappen and also saw his times increase as the tyres aged.

At the beginning, Russell was able to keep up with Verstappen quite well, but toward the end of the stint he was sometimes as much as eight-tenths slower.

Naturally, a slap on the wrist never hurts. It is unclear how much fuel the various drivers and teams were driving with, but if the fuel quantity was fairly even, Ferrari in particular was a bit disappointing.

Yes, Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz were much more consistent than last season, but times were generally nowhere near Verstappen's. Leclerc came in under 1:37 twice in total.

View the long runs of Verstappen, Russell and Leclerc below. The text continues after that.

Long runs second free practice

1 1:37.007 1:36.805 1:37.297
2 1:36.714 1:36.805 1:37.257
3 1:36.527 1:36.860 1:36.636
4 1:36.499 1:36.678 1:36.629
5 1:36.632 1:36.983 1:40.948
6 1:36.546 1:36.834 1:37.062
7 1:40.431 1:37.127 1:37.043
8 1:36.628 1:36.906 1:37.295
9 1:36.732 1:37.551 1:37.267
10 1:36.902 1:37.698 1:37.373
11 1:42.064 1:37.334 1:37.389
12 1:36.645
13 1:37.037
AVERAGE 1:36.715 (+ 0,338) (+ 0,415)

Possible surprises

In addition to the usual suspects, Fernando Alonso and Aston Martin also seemed to be in good shape. The Spaniard was slightly slower overall in his long run than the traditional top three, but the difference was not great.

Alonso could just become a dangerous outsider that way, as even his fastest lap - Alonso finished third in the second free practice session - his second sector, for example, was faster than Verstappen and Hamilton.

That leaves McLaren. Oscar Piastri in particular was fast with plenty of fuel on board, although the Woking-based team opted to swap the softs for mediums in the closing stages.

Therefore, in terms of wear and decay times, it is still a bit of a guess. Lando Norris said in advance that the Bahrain International Circuit does not suit the MCL38, but so far they really seem to be getting into the fray.

The conclusion? Verstappen is still the man to beat in the race, but the gap has certainly narrowed. The Dutchman does not have a huge margin over Mercedes, Ferrari, Aston Martin and McLaren.

We have already seen it in the free practice sessions: it is not a certainty that Verstappen will take pole position. An overtaking race is required and in that respect, Verstappen seems to have an advantage.

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