A stray dog halted an eventful second practice for Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix after Alexander Albon crashed out at high speed.
Lewis Hamilton celebrated his title coronation by finishing fastest in both sessions at the Sakhir Circuit, but the drama unfolded away from the world champion.
First, the London-born Albon did his decreasing hopes of salvaging a seat with Red Bull few favours when he lost control of his car through the final corner.
Red Bull’s Alex Albon crashed heavily during second practice for the Bahrain Grand Prix
After being elevated from AlphaTauri to Red Bull midway through his rookie season, Albon, 24, has endured a troubled second campaign.
And facing mounting speculation here that he will be replaced by Racing Point’s Sergio Perez in 2021, Albon wrote off his Red Bull.
The Thai driver emerged unscathed from the accident, but his Red Bull mechanics were on Friday night facing a hefty repair job following severe damage to the front and rear of Albon’s Red Bull machine.
The running, under the 495 bulbs that light up the circuit here in Manama, was brought to an immediate halt – but only moments after Albon’s stricken car had been removed and the safety barrier patched up, the 90-minute session was red-flagged again when a stray dog broke through a fence and galloped on to the circuit.
Hamilton arrives at the Sakhir Cicrcuit this week with pet dog Roscoe
Eight drivers on the track at the time gingerly returned to the pits and a five-minute delay ensued.
Peter Bonnington, Hamilton’s race engineer, informed his star driver of the dog at the opening bend. The world champion replied: ‘I hope it is not Roscoe’, in reference to his pet bulldog who has accompanied the newly crowned seven-time world champion to Bahrain.
Despite the eventful on-track action, it was business as usual for Hamilton at the front.
Hamilton finished almost four tenths clear of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, with Valtteri Bottas third in the other Mercedes. Perez was fourth.
Hamilton has been in a school of one this year, winning 10 of the 14 races staged en route to drawing level with Michael Schumacher’s record with three rounds to spare.
Hamilton locks his front left tyre during second practice for the Bahrain Grand Prix but still managed to go quickest to dominate Friday’s running
BAHRAIN GP SECOND PRACTICE
1 Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes 1: 28.971
2 Verstappen (Hol) Red Bull 1:29.318
3 Bottas (Fin) Mercedes 1:29.336
4 Perez (Mex) Racing Point 1:29.403
5 Ricciardo (Aus) Renault 1:29.462
6 Gasly (Fra) AlphaTauri 1:29.551
7 Norris (Gbr) McLaren 1:29.841
8 Stroll (Can) Racing Point 1:29.871
9 Kvyat (Rus) AlphaTauri 1:29.900
10 Albon (Tha) Red Bull 1:30.014
11 Ocon (Fra) Renault 1:30.085
12 Vettel (Ger) Ferrari 1:30.110
13 Sainz (Spa) McLaren 1:30.271
14 Leclerc (Mon) Ferrari 1:30.407
15 Giovinazzi (Ita) A. Romeo 1:30.627
16 Magnussen (Den) Haas F1 1:30.849
17 Raikkonen (Fin) A. Romeo 1:30.928
18 Latifi (Can) Williams 1:30.973
19 Grosjean (Fra) Haas F1 1:31.119
20 Russell (Gbr) Williams 1:31.636
The Englishman’s £40million-a-season Mercedes contract expires at the end of next month, and speaking here, he was critical of the sport’s bosses’ plans to introduce a driver salary cap which could dent his future earnings.
In a meeting of the F1 Commission last month, all 10 team principals, including Hamilton’s Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, agreed to splitting both drivers’ wages within the same team to no more than £22million-a-year from 2023. The concept is subject to ratification but falls into line with the sport’s vision of drastically reducing costs.
Next season a budget cap will be introduced where teams must spend no more than 145million (£112m). This will reduce to 140m (£108m) in 2022 and 135m (£105m) in 2023. Mercedes and Ferrari currently both operate at costs in excess of £300m a year.
Hamilton started the day in fine form by running half-a-second quicker than anyone else
But Hamilton said: ‘The drivers here are the stars of the sport and it is their reputations which elevates the sport and helps it travel around the world.
‘If you look at other sports, there have been salary caps in NFL and basketball. But I think the one difference is that those individuals own their image and they can try to maximise that elsewhere. But this sport pretty much controls the driver’s image.
‘I do think about the next up-and-coming young stars and I don’t particularly see why they should be handicapped if they’re bringing something huge to the sport. It is a multi-billion pound sport and they should be rewarded.’
Hamilton started life as a seven-time world champion in dominating fashion after going nearly half-a-second quicker than anyone else in first practice.
The new seven-time world champion continued his dominance in Sakhir on Friday
The Brit matched Michael Schumacher’s all-time record of Formula One titles in Turkey last time out with one of his greatest ever victories in the wet conditions, but he was just as untouchable in the dry desert at the Sakhir Circuit – ignoring the few spots of rain in the opening few minutes. Setting a time of 1:29.033 he was 0.449 seconds clear of his Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas, with Mercedes once again proving the class of the field.
It proved to be a Mercedes powered top three with Sergio Perez the best of the rest for Racing Point.
The only driver to get within a second of Hamilton’s time was Carlos Sainz in the McLaren.
All teams were given ‘prototype’ tyres which are a compound set to feature in 2021 and were told they had to at least run them for six laps during the session,
Max Verstappen struggled for Red Bull during the first practice session in Sakhir
Ferrari treated first practice like a test session with Charles Leclerc 11th for the team
It proved to be a frustrating start to the day for Red Bull’s Max Verstappen who after flat spotting his tyres following a spin at the final corner also damaged the floor of his car.
Spending the end of the session with his team fixing the damage, he was narrowly behind AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly, who impressed again, down in sixth.
Verstappen’s team-mate Alex Albon was only eight thousandths of a second down in seventh while Lance Stroll was ninth sandwiched between the two Renaults led by Esteban Ocon in front of Daniel Ricciardo to complete the top 10.
Despite the grey skies at Sakhir, the track remained dry throughout Friday’s first practice
BAHRAIN GP FIRST PRACTICE
1 Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes 1: 29.033
2 Bottas (Fin) Mercedes 1:29.482,
3 Perez (Mex) Racing Point 1:30.000
4 Sainz (Spa) McLaren 1:30.018
5 Gasly (Fra) AlphaTauri 1:30.049
6 Verstappen (Hol) Red Bull 1:30.294
7 Albon (Tha) Red Bull 1:30.302
8 Ocon (Fra) Renault 1:30.384
9 Stroll (Can) Racing Point 1:30.426
10 Ricciardo (Aus) Renault 1:30.508
11 Leclerc (Mon) Ferrari 1:30.589
12 Vettel (Ger) Ferrari 1:30.628
13 Kubica (Pol) Williams 1:30.732
14 Grosjean (Fra) Haas 1:30.832
15 Magnussen (Den) Haas 1:30.854
16 Giovinazzi (Ita) A. Romeo 1:30.896
17 Kvyat (Rus) AlphaTauri 1:31.020
18 Norris (Gbr) McLaren 1:31.392
19 Latifi (Can) Williams 1:32.472,
20 Nissany (Isr) Williams 1:32.801
Ferrari used the session to test many parts for the 2021 season and completed the morning session 11th and 12th with Charles Leclerc in front of Sebastian Vettel.
Robert Kubica was back behind the wheel of a Formula One car as the Pole deputised for Kimi Raikkonen. Kubica finished 13th, three places ahead of Antonio Giovinazzi in the other Alfa Romeo.
George Russell handed the keys to his Williams over to the team’s reserve driver Roy Nissany for the opening session. Nissany finished rooted to the foot of the order.
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