The season-opener in Australia set up a perfect tone for 2016 as Nico Rosberg continued where he left off last term with a victory. This meant the German has won four races on the trot and the defending triple world champion Lewis Hamilton who had a strong qualifying with yet another pole was left pondering.
Ahead of the race weekend, however, Fernando Alonso’s presence for McLaren had been put under uncertainty as FIA doctors took two CT chest scans in the Sakhir medical centre and decided not to allow him participate as he didn’t fully recover from the horrendous crash sustained at Albert Park after running into the back of Haas’ Esteban Gutierrez.
The lung and ribs suffered injuries which could lead to difficulties in seating inside the car and Alonso said he would oblige the FIA doctor’s recommendation. Flew in the reigning GP2 and McLaren protégé Stoffel Vandoorne from Super Formula testing as a stand-in and consequently ensured his F1 weekend debut.
As the Belgian eventually making his maiden race appearance on Sunday, tensions grew over who will have the upper hand for the crucial qualifying at the season’s first night race as the normal Friday services resumed on track at the Sakhir International Circuit. F1’s off-track turmoil is here to stay so as the messy qualifying format for at least one more race.
Also making debut was the Force India development driver Alfonso Celis Jr. as he replaced the regular Sergio Perez for the first practice session. Wehrlein, Gutierrez, Verstappen, Magnussen, Celis Jr., Nasr, Button, Vettel and Grosjean headed out as lights went green at the end of the pitlane. As drivers completed their initial laps, Vandoorne clocked his first miles on a MP4-31 wearing some heavy aero rakes.
With 15 minutes in, Manor Racing’s Pascal Wehrlein set the timing screen alight with a 1:39.743s followed by Hamilton and Ricciardo. Nico Rosberg had a smooth running throughout the 90-minute session and recorded a 1:32.292s lap to kick off the race weekend in style.
Whilst doing 24 laps in total, his fastest time on the soft compound tyre was half second quicker than Hamilton and 0.277 s up on his 2015 pole time. The latter ended up behind his team-mate in second while completing as many laps. FP2 was no different for the German as he topped once again (and set the fastest time of the day 1:31.001s) by 0.241 s from Hamilton after registering a highly productive 38 laps to send out his clear intentions for qualifying and the race.
Kimi Raikkonen finished third with a huge gap of 1.834s to Rosberg and ahead of Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat’s Red Bulls in the opening session. Over two tenths shy of Rosberg, both finished 0.080s between each other in FP1. From the Aussie to the 14th placed Jenson Button in McLaren, the field was tightly bunched up as only a second differentiated them at the end of first ninety minutes. But the veteran Briton’s super-soft run in FP2 put him in third with just 1.3 seconds off the topper Rosberg.
The Milton Keynes-based team was constantly up there throughout the day behind the Ferraris. Sebastian Vettel finished FP1 eleventh and pulled over late at Turn 8 in the evening session as unfortunately the rear left wheel was found to be loose.
Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg slotted in sixth in front of the Toro Rosso duo of Carlos Sainz and Max Verstappen in FP1 as both teams are too good to resist. Continuing his impressive sixth place finish on Haas’ debut, the Frenchman Romain Grosjean came home ninth fastest ahead of Felipe Massa who rounded out the top 10 in FP1.
Romain lost his car’s front wing over the Turn 13 kerb in FP2 and brought a brief Virtual Safety Car period. Manor’s Pascal Wehrlein and Daniil Kvyat ended the first session with most laps by clocking 30 each as the latter looked promising again by outpacing both Saubers (Gutierrez ran new chassis) and team-mate Rio Haryanto in the final session of the day.
Both Williams drivers look set to be locking horns with the Force India pair for the lower positions of the top ten tomorrow. Stoffel Vandoorne completed FP1 in 18th before finding his rhythm in the MP4-31 in the second session and climbed seven places to end up 11th with 1:32.999s on soft tyres. Force India reserve Alfonso Celis Jr finished 21st in his GP debut while the Renault drivers Keviin Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer had endured mediocre outings in both the sessions.