Max Verstappen tops 2nd practice at Bahrain GP; Lewis Hamilton struggling for pace

F1 Hamilton Verstappen Bahrain
Clive Mason/Getty Images
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SAKHIR, Bahrain — Formula One champion Max Verstappen quickly got back to business for Red Bull by leading the second and practice sessions at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, where F1 rival Lewis Hamilton continued to struggle.

Hamilton was only sixth fastest in the final practice. Last year’s title runner-up has a record 103 F1 wins yet totally ruled out opening the season with No. 104 on Sunday.

“As you can see we’re a long way off,” said Hamilton, who had been worried during preaseason testing about his lack of pace. “I’m just realistic, we’re not going to be in the race for a win here. If you look at the Red Bulls, they’re a long way ahead.”

Hamilton’s teammate, George Russell, fared a bit better, placing fourth in the second session, but said that was a one-off lap pace and thinks it will be a case of “damage limitation” for Mercedes this weekend.

“The pace just is not there at all at the moment. We’re both struggling and we’re both a long way off,” the British driver said. “From our side we’re not overly happy with where we are.”

Red Bull and resurgent Ferrari, which last won the drivers’ title in 2007, must be delighted.

Although Verstappen was fifth in first practice earlier Friday, the Dutchman improved to finish ahead of Ferrari drivers Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jr.

“We had quite a straightforward and smooth day so I’m pretty happy,” said Verstappen, who was fastest in all preseason testing. “We tried a few things on the car in each session and they seemed to work well.”

Verstappen’s time put him a narrow .09 seconds ahead of Leclerc and .58 clear of Sainz on an encouraging day for Ferrari.

“Ferrari are pushing hard and are very close, so that’s exciting,” said Verstappen, who might have a new rival.

Hamilton was a distant 1.2 seconds behind Verstappen’s leading mark on a disappointing day when the seven-time F1 champion placed seventh in the first practice.

“We’ve had small problems in the past compared to this year. We’re faced with much, much bigger problems,” Hamilton said. “Everything we do to try and fix it doesn’t really change that. It appears that it’s going to be a more longer-term fix, so nothing in the short term.”

There is a third and final practice on Saturday ahead of qualifying in cooler evening conditions at Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir.

Friday’s first practice was led by AlphaTauri driver Pierre Gasly, with Leclerc and Sainz also second and third as Ferrari’s encouraging performance from preseason testing continued.

Russell was fourth in his first practice since replacing Valtteri Bottas on the team. Hamilton was a considerable .75 back from Gasly’s time, and the gap to the leader only grew bigger in the second session.

This season has seen new regulations designed to level the playing field by reducing the advantage of the traditional big teams.

In a bid to increase fairer competition, budgets were cut from $145 million (132 million euros) to $140 million (127 million euros) for each team and will drop to $135 million (123 million euros) in 2023.

The cars are heavier and there has also been a problem with what is known in F1 as “porpoising” – an aerodynamic issue where cars hop and bounce on the track.

Mercedes has been affected by this.

“The braking is something we can fix so it’s not a concern,” Hamilton said. “It’s more the balance and this bouncing that we have, and a loss of downforce that we do seem to have compared to others.”

McLaren uses Mercedes engines and seems to have similar issues to resolve. British driver Lando Norris was 16th in the first practice and 11th in the second practice as he slid around.

McLaren had five podiums last season – four for Norris and a win for Daniel Ricciardo – while back-marker Haas did not even score a point.

But both of the Haas cars – which use Ferrari engines – were ahead of McLaren in the second practice, with Mick Schumacher eighth and Kevin Magnussen 10th.

Starting lineup grid for IMSA Petit Le Mans: Tom Blomqvist puts MSR on pole position

Petit Le Mans lineup
IMSA
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IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship contender Tom Blomqvist put the Meyer Shank Racing Acura at the front of the starting lineup for the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta.

Blomqvist turned a 1-minute, 8.55-second lap on the 2.54-mile circuit Friday to capture his third pole position for MSR this season. Earl Bamber qualified second in the No. 02 Cadillac for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Ricky Taylor was third in the No. 10 Acura of Wayne Taylor Racing, which enters Saturday’s season finale with a 19-point lead over the No. 60 of Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis (who will be joined by Helio Castroneves) for the 10-hour race.

PETIT LE MANS STARTING GRID: Click here for the starting lineup l Lineup by car number

PETIT LE MANS: Info on how to watch

With the pole, MSR sliced the deficit to 14 points behind WTR, which will field the trio of Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and Brendon Hartley in Saturday’s race.

“We really needed to put the car in this kind of position,” Blomqvist said. “It makes our life a little less stressful tomorrow. It would have given the No. 10 a bit more breathing space. It’s going to be a proper dogfight tomorrow. The guys gave me such a great car. It’s been fantastic this week so far, and it really came alive. I’m hugely thankful to the boys and girls at MSR for giving me the wagon today to execute my job.

“That was a big effort from me. I knew how important it was. It’s just awesome for the guys to give them some sort of reward as well. It’s always nice to be quick. If you do the pole, you know you’ve got a quick car.”

Though WTR has a series-leading four victories with the No. 10, MSR won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and has five runner-up finishes along with its three poles.

The strong performances of the ARX-05s ensure that an Acura will win the final championship in IMSA’s premier Daytona Prototype international (DPi) division, which is being rebranded as Grand Touring Prototype in the move to LMDh cars next season.

Taylor qualified third despite sliding into the Turn 5 gravel during the closing minutes of qualifying while pushing to gain points.

“Qualifying was important for points,” Taylor said. “Going into it, if we outqualified the No. 60 Meyer Shank Acura, they had a lot to lose in terms of championship points. So, we were trying to increase the gap over 20 points which would’ve made a big difference for tomorrow. We would have loved to get the pole and qualify ahead of the No. 60, but in the scheme of the points, it didn’t change a whole lot. I’m feeling good since it’s such a long race, and the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura team does such a good job strategizing and putting us in a good position.

“I’m very confident in our lineup and our team compared to them over the course of 10 hours. I’d put my two teammates up against those guys any day. I think we are all feeling optimistic and strong for tomorrow.”

In other divisions, PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports (LMP2), Riley Motorsports (LMP3), VasserSullivan (GTD Pro) and Paul Miller Racing (GTD) captured pole positions.

The broadcast of the 10-hour race will begin Saturday at 12:10 p.m. ET on NBC, moving at 3 p.m. to USA Network.


QUALIFYING

Results

Results by class

Fastest lap by driver

Fastest lap by driver after qualifying

Fastest lap by driver and class after qualifying

Fastest lap sequence in qualifying

Best sector times in qualifying

Time cards in qualifying

PRACTICE RESULTS: Session I l Session II l Session III