Red Bull and Max Verstappen rose to a stern challenge presented by Ferrari during the second practice session at the Bahrain International Circuit, as the teams switched their focus to faster runs in the evening conditions.
With the FP2 session held under the floodlights, the conditions were far more representative of what will be seen during the qualifying session on Saturday and the Grand Prix on Sunday.
During the initial runs on the Medium compound tyre, it was Charles Leclerc who set the early benchmark as he went half a second clear at the top, with Verstappen settling into second place.
But the pace ramped up significantly in the second half, as the drivers began swapping over to the Soft tyres.
The lap times start to tumble
Carlos Sainz popped to the top on his first lap on the Soft as he set a 1:33.0, which was immediately beaten by Alpine's Fernando Alonso. But Leclerc then lowered the benchmark significantly as he set a time some eight-tenths quicker than Sainz on the same Soft compound.
With Leclerc fastest on a 1:32.263, and the Mercedes drivers appearing to struggle for pace, all eyes were on Verstappen as the reigning World Champion began his qualifying simulation lap.
The Dutch driver didn't disappoint, as he logged a 1:31.936 to beat Leclerc by three-tenths – the Monegasque responding moments later to post a time just 0.087 slower than Verstappen's benchmark.
With Verstappen and Leclerc nip and tuck at the front, Sainz settled for third and half-a-second off his teammate, while George Russell led the Mercedes charge in fourth.
In the final minutes of the session, Leclerc was involved in a minor contretemps with AlphaTauri's Yuki Tsunoda at Turn 8. As a result, the stewards will investigate the incident.
Result Free practice 2 - Bahrain
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More struggles for Hamilton
With Russell's best effort just under six-tenths away from the time set by Verstappen, the young British driver enjoyed a clear advantage over Lewis Hamilton during second practice.
The seven-time World Champion appeared to struggle more significantly with porpoising than his teammate, and also ran wide at the first corner as he embarked on a flying lap.
Hamilton finished in ninth at the chequered flag, six-tenths away from Russell's times, but Mercedes revealed that Hamilton was struggling with a malfunctioning DRS on his W13.
Other notable performers in FP2
Having missed almost the entirety of the first practice session due to an engine issue, Valtteri Bottas recovered strongly to place his Alfa Romeo in sixth by the end of second practice – even ahead of Red Bull's Sergio Perez.
Haas showed strongly, with Mick Schumacher in eighth and Magnussen in 10th, while the deputising Nico Hulkenberg was just a tenth off the pace set by teammate Lance Stroll in their Aston Martins in 16th and 17th.
Meanwhile, McLaren had a low-key session. Lando Norris was 11th with a best time 1.3 seconds away from the front, while Daniel Ricciardo was 18th after a water leak on his car curtailed his participation.
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