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'Chaos': Formula 1 is now a 'dog fight'

The first day of official Formula 1 grand prix action for 2021 has delivered a wild shake-up of the grid with Mercedes blown out of the water.

Formula 1 may have just got awesome again.

Mercedes has delivered the fastest time in the first day of practice of every Formula 1 season since 2014 - but at the Bahrain Grand Prix on Saturday morning (AEDT) four teams split the four fastest times and Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton was relegated to third.

After seven years of supremacy and a season of easy dominance, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff admitted on after the second practice session that he expects a "dog fight" with rivals Red Bull at this weekend's season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.

The Austrian team chief, who has overseen seven consecutive constructors and drivers title doubles, had hoped that urgent improvements to the team's 2021 cars would put them on terms in the opening practice sessions. Mercedes' dominance was questioned after they struggled in the official testing event last weekend

But instead it was Red Bull's flying Dutchman Max Verstappen who twice topped the times to prove he is the fastest man ahead of Sunday's opening race. Verstappen was also quickest during the official testing event.




Defending seven-time champion Hamilton was only third in hot, dry and windy conditions at the Bahrain International Circuit on, beaten by both Verstappen and fellow-Briton Lando Norris in a Mercedes-powered McLaren.

Aussie Daniel Ricciardo was almost 0.3 seconds behind his teammate, but did enough to finish sixth overall.

There were five different teams in the top seven spots.

The fact that the 2021 season may very well see at least one team challenge Mercedes did not impress Wolff.

"It's a real dog fight. When you overlay the fastest laps and even the long runs, it's just so very close that every kilogram in fuel load can have a very big swing so we don't really know," Wolff said.

"We are definitely closer here than we were in testing, but I wouldn't know where to position us versus Red Bull."

Hamilton said Red Bull had proved their superior speed and added that he feared the forecast windy conditions due over the weekend while teammate Valtteri Bottas, who was fifth, said he found his car to be "undriveable at times".

Mercedes' fall from clear supremacy to close contenders followed a set of rule changes designed to reduce downforce and make the cars marginally slower and safer.

In Mercedes case, the aerodynamic rule changes which required cutting away part of the floor of the car in front of the rear wheels had resulted in a huge loss of performance.

Max Verstappen goes quiet after huge practice result



Verstappen topped the times and then tried to play down his early advantage over Lewis Hamilton.

"It was alright," he said.

"Of course, the conditions are different compared to testing, but it's alright. I have a good feeling with the car and we still have things to look at tyre-wise and balance, but overall I'm happy.

"Tomorrow (for qualifying) is a different day - and it will be even windier, which with these cars makes it quite tricky." The Red Bull driver outpaced nearest rival Norris, in his Mercedes-powered McLaren, by 0.095 seconds and Hamilton by slightly more than two-thirds.

Ferrari new boy Carlos Sainz, in his first day's work since joining from McLaren, was fourth ahead of Valtteri Bottas in the second Mercedes with Ricciardo, on his first outing for McLaren after leaving Renault winding up sixth.

Daniel Ricciardo wants more from himself after Bahrain Grand Prix Practice resul



Ricciardo was bested by his new teammate in both practice session on Saturday morning and admitted after that he is still uncomfortable in his new car, the MCL35M.

"I thought having an hour session instead of 90 minutes meant it would be a bit easier, with less time on track - but it was pretty chaotic actually,".

"You feel the half-hour. It goes quick. I think it was quite fortunate that we were here a couple of weeks ago, so we could hit the ground running. I think you need to make the most of that track time.

"I'm still getting there, I still want to find a few things in the car and obviously within myself. In FP2 I made some inroads, but hopefully I'll find another step tomorrow to get more where I want to be."

Bahrain Grand Prix Practice 2 official times

1) Max Verstappen, Red Bull, 1:31.394

2) Lando Norris, McLaren, +0.095

3) Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, +0.235

4) Carlos Sainz, Ferrari, +0.280

5) Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, +0.371

6) Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren, +0.384

7) Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri, +0.447

8) Lance Stroll, Aston Martin, +0.546

9) Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri, +0.636

10) Sergio Perez, Red Bull, +0.656

11) Esteban Ocon, Alpine, +0.754

12) Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, +0.765

13) Antonio Giovinazzi, Alfa Romeo, +0.893

14) Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin, +0.922

15) Fernando Alonso, Alpine, +0.923

16) Kimi Raikkonen, Alfa Romeo, +1.015

17) George Russell, Williams, +1.484

18) Mick Schumacher, Haas, +2.450

19) Nicholas Latifi, Williams, +2.553

20) Nikita Mazepin, Haas, +2.602

- with AFP


Originally published as 'Chaos': Formula 1 is now a 'dog fight'

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