Formula 1

FP2: Mercedes sub Russell beats Verstappen to complete clean sweep on Friday at Sakhir GP

George Russell continued the impressive start to his Mercedes debut at the Sakhir Grand Prix, leading his second straight session of Friday in Free Practice 2, as Red Bull’s Max Verstappen once again took second place, ahead of the Racing Point of Sergio Perez.

It was tough for any driver to get a perfectly clean lap around the tight 3.5km Bahrain International Circuit Outer Track that stands at just 0.2km longer than Monaco. But once the qualifying simulations were complete, it was Russell who, as in FP1, headed the time sheets with a lap of 54.713s – some two-tenths slower than he managed in the opening session of the weekend.

READ MORE: Sakhir GP not a shoot-out between Russell and Bottas for 2022 Mercedes seat, insists Wolff

Valtteri Bottas couldn’t get within three-tenths of his team mate in FP1 – and on paper, his FP2 performance was even worse, the Finn ending up in P11, and not looking entirely at ease around the shorter circuit configuration.

But having exceeded track limits at Turn 8 on his two qualifying simulation laps and either aborted the laps or had them deleted, Bottas will be hopeful of turning the situation around on Saturday, with that P11 time set on the hard tyres early in the session.

FORMULA 1 ROLEX SAKHIR GRAND PRIX 2020

Practice 2 results

POSITION TIME
1  George RUSSELL Mercedes 54.713
2  Max VERSTAPPEN Red Bull Racing +0.128s
3  Sergio PEREZ Racing Point +0.153s
4  Esteban OCON Renault +0.227s
5  Alexander ALBON Red Bull Racing +0.323s

Behind Russell, Verstappen was 0.128s further back, with both the Dutchman and his fifth-placed Red Bull team mate Alex Albon complaining of understeer on their RB16s. Perez took an impressive third, just 0.025s adrift of Verstappen, while a strong lap from Esteban Ocon put him P4, suggesting that Renault were having a better time of it with the lower downforce set-up required this weekend.

After Albon in fifth came the AlphaTauri of Daniil Kvyat, a punchy first day for the Russian and his team seeing him finish ahead of the second Racing Point of Lance Stroll and the second Renault of Daniel Ricciardo, with Pierre Gasly and the leading McLaren of Carlos Sainz – who complained of a loss of synchronisation on his gears midway through his long run simulation – in P9 and P10, Gasly suffering a scare in the final moments of the session after being struck painfully on the finger by some flying gravel.

AS IT HAPPENED – Second Practice in Sakhir

Behind Bottas’ time for 11th, Kimi Raikkonen was 12th ahead of his Alfa Romeo team mate Antonio Giovinazzi – the two Ferrari-powered cars seen tentatively experimenting with a tow early on in the session at the fast Sakhir GP track – while Haas’ Kevin Magnussen was 14th, ahead of the Williams of Nichol Latifi.

It was a session to forget for Ferrari on Friday night, meanwhile. Sebastian Vettel ended up 16th, spinning early on at Turn 2, then spinning again dramatically right in front of Magnussen at Turn 5 on his first flying lap in the qualifying simulations, before then running wide on another. At least his car was working, though, with team mate Charles Leclerc suffering a driveshaft issue after just two laps, and failing to set a time.

Like his team mate, meanwhile, Lando Norris was also having issues, running over a kerb and damaging his floor early on, forcing his McLaren team to carry out repairs, before then suffering an issue that sent him back to the pits. The Briton – fourth at the Bahrain Grand Prix five days ago – ended up P17, ahead of the two F1 debutants, Haas’ Pietro Fittipaldi and Williams’ Jack Aitken, who both kept their noses clean in FP2, while the time-less, luck-less Leclerc rounded out the field.

READ MORE: It’s a Red Bull seat or a year on the bench for Albon in 2021, says Horner

So, it’s been an impressive opening gambit at Mercedes from George Russell. But with Red Bull looking close to the Silver Arrows, Bottas yet to really show his true pace, and with FP2 having given us a sense of just how frenetic qualifying could be, it’s very much still all to play for in Bahrain.

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