Mercedes endured a stuttering start to Formula 1 2021 as the world champions hit reliability issues in the opening session of pre-season testing, which was topped by McLaren’s new signing Daniel Ricciardo.
Claiming F1’s titles in each of the past seven seasons, Mercedes are used to hitting the ground running but spotted a gearshift glitch on their new W12 car’s very first lap in Bahrain – where three days of testing has begun with plenty of fresh looks for the teams as well as competitive lap times.
A gearbox change kept Valtteri Bottas in the garage for the next three hours, with the Finnish driver only managing six laps before lunch.
He will be replaced by Lewis Hamilton for the afternoon/evening session, when Mercedes will hope to make up for lost time.
Mercedes’ uncharacteristic problems provided the big surprise from F1 2021’s opening morning, with Ricciardo setting the pace for his new team McLaren, now powered by Mercedes engines.
Ricciardo’s fastest lap was a 1:32.203 – significantly slower than the normal race weekend times around the Sakhir circuit – edging Pierre Gasly and Max Verstappen as the top three were split by just 0.042s.
Gasly had a particularly impressive morning in the AlphaTauri, completing a session-leading 73 laps, while Verstappen was quick while also often running off track in a Red Bull he hopes will be a title contender.
Esteban Ocon was fourth in his new A521 as Alpine, formerly Renault, made their official F1 debut, while Sebastian Vettel was seventh for Aston Martin on their return to F1 following Racing Point’s rebrand.
Mercedes were not alone in suffering reliability glitches to start F1 2021, with Charles Leclerc – fifth for a Ferrari team desperate to bounce back – causing the only red flag of the session by stopping on track in the new SF21 just before lunch.
“It started to misfire just before the braking zone,” said Sky F1’s Martin Brundle.
Mick Schumacher also did not have an ideal opening morning, with the rookie Haas driver – Michael Schumacher’s son – limited to 15 laps with his team suffering, like Mercedes, gearbox issues.
Ricciardo, Gasly, Leclerc, Kimi Raikkonen, Vettel, Schumacher and Bottas now hand over to their respective team-mates for the four hours of the afternoon session.
Morning session final timesheet
1. Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren, 45laps, 1:32.203
2. Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri, 74 laps, +0.028
3. Max Verstappen, Red Bull, 60 laps, +0.042
4. Esteban Ocon, Alpine, 55 laps, +0.756
5. Charles Leclerc, Ferrari: 59 laps, +1.039
6. Kimi Raikkonen, Alfa Romeo: 63 laps, +1.117
7. Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin, 51 laps, +1.539
8. Roy Nissany, Williams, 39 laps
9. Mick Schumacher, Haas, 15 laps, +3.924
10. Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, 6 laps, +4.647
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