George Russell began life as Mercedes’ substitute driver by setting the quickest time during practice for Formula 1’s Sakhir Grand Prix.
Formula 1 is this weekend using a revised version of the Bahrain International Circuit, with the Outer Layout adopted for the first time, resulting in lap times of under a minute.
Williams regular Russell has stepped into Mercedes for this event in place of Lewis Hamilton in the wake of the World Champion returning a positive Covid-19 test.
Russell trailed team-mate Valtteri Bottas through the early stages but vaulted to the front of the pack and then went quicker, setting a time of 54.546s to wind up fastest.
Bottas, meanwhile, had a scruffy session, making mistakes on multiple push laps, including a heavy lock-up into Turn 1 and a wild moment through the Turn 2 kink, as he ran without DAS on the W11.
Bottas finished in fourth position, 0.322s down on Russell, as the Briton emerged on top in Hamilton’s absence.
Red Bull Russell’s nearest challenger
Max Verstappen emerged as Hamilton’s primary challenger in last Sunday’s race and once more the Red Bull driver finished second, this time 0.176s behind Russell.
Alexander Albon backed up his team-mate in third place as he recovered from a spin through Turn 2.
Red Bull’s sister team, AlphaTauri, demonstrated impressive speed as Daniil Kvyat and Pierre Gasly finished fifth and sixth respectively.
Gasly had an unusual issue early in the session when he had to return to the pit lane clutching the mirror on the right-hand-side of the car after it began to work its way loose.
Ferrari and Renault filled out the top 10, with Esteban Ocon ahead of Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo and Charles Leclerc.
Racing Point and McLaren chasing rivals
Racing Point endured a troubled Bahrain Grand Prix and it remained outside of the front-running positions in FP1 on Friday, Lance Stroll and Sergio Perez over a second off the pace.
McLaren took only 13th and 16th, Carlos Sainz clear of Lando Norris, with the duo split by the Alfa Romeo pair of Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi.
McLaren currently holds third in the Constructors’ Championship, 17 points clear of Racing Point, with Renault and Ferrari also in the mix.
Rookie mistakes hurt debutants
Pietro Fittipaldi and Jack Aitken are making their grand prix debuts this weekend and both made minor mistakes that cost them session time.
Fittipaldi locked up into Turn 4 while Aitken spun through Turn 2, damaging a set of tyres, and leaving them with fewer laps under their belt than respective team-mates Kevin Magnussen and Nicholas Latifi.
Fittipaldi’s 24 laps were 13 fewer than Magnussen while the 33 amassed by Aitken left him 15 shy of the mileage racked up by Latifi.
Fittipaldi was almost a second off Magnussen while at Williams – the only team not to set their best times on Soft tyres – Aitken was four-tenths shy of Latifi.
Friday’s second practice session is scheduled to begin at 19:00 local time.