Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen led proceedings on the opening day of Formula 1 pre-season testing in Bahrain as Mercedes had an abnormally off-colour display.
Formula 1 is this year holding just a sole three-day test in preparation for the record-breaking 23-event season, which will commence at the same venue in two weeks’ time.
Drivers had to grapple gusty and dusty conditions for much of the day, with track conditions at their worst shortly after lunch, with plumes of sand trailing from the rear of the cars.
Verstappen used the Medium tyres to clock a time of 1:30.674s – over three seconds down on last November’s pole position effort at the grand prix – to finish two-tenths clear of McLaren’s Lando Norris.
Red Bull was also the most productive team during the course of the opening day, amassing 139 laps, over two grand prix distances worth of mileage.
Alpine’s Esteban Ocon was third, with Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll fourth, Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz fifth and Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi sixth.
Morning pacesetter Daniel Ricciardo slipped to seventh spot by the close of play, ahead of AlphaTauri pairing Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda.
Mercedes subdued and scruffy
World Champions Mercedes endured an atypically disrupted and quiet start to pre-season testing, with Lewis Hamilton only just scraping into the top 10.
The W12 completed only an installation lap before a gearshift problem consigned Valtteri Bottas to the garage for the bulk of the session, limiting him to just five more laps.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff affirmed that the “issue came out of nowhere” and the squad was still trying to understand the cause.
Hamilton took over from Bottas for the afternoon session but cut a subdued figure, with several scruffy moments, not troubling the top of the timesheets, and amassing only 42 laps.
It meant Mercedes finished with just 48 laps, its best effort 2.2s off Verstappen, with the least mileage of any team.
A few issues elsewhere
On a largely trouble-free opening day of running in Bahrain a few other teams’ programmes were interrupted by glitches.
Mick Schumacher’s session for Haas was truncated to just 15 laps due to a gearbox change.
Charles Leclerc halted the Ferrari SF21 just 10 minutes prior to the lunch break, causing the day’s sole red flag, while Stroll’s arrival after lunch was delayed owing to a small electrical issue.
Their respective team-mates, Nikita Mazepin and Sainz, both had spins through Turn 11 in the afternoon session but were able to continue their programmes.
Williams, meanwhile, handed the day’s running to test driver Roy Nissany.
Formula 1 testing will resume at 10:00 local time on Saturday.