Red Bull’s Max Verstappen dominated the opening practice sessions completed an opening day double during the first practice sessions of the year in Bahrain.
Verstappen beat Lando Norris to the punch by just 0.095 seconds while outgunning defending seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes who was third fastest.
Verstappen was also quickest during the official testing event.
Aussie Daniel Ricciardo was almost 0.3 seconds behind his teammate, but did enough to finish sixth overall.
The result surprised many especially since Mercedes recorded the fastest time in the first day of practice of every Formula 1 season since 2014.
Although it was close as four different teams finished in the top four, and five in the top seven, leading Mercedes boss Toto Wolf to admit this year will be competitive.
“The night has fallen and the conditions haven’t come towards us,” said Wolff, after the floodlit second practice session.
“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.
“We are definitely closer here than we were in testing, but I wouldn’t know where to position us versus Red Bull.”
Dutch driver Verstappen, was impressed with the speed of his car yet didn’t want to get carried away.
“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.
Lewis Hamilton said: “We thought that Red Bull would be as fast as they are, if not faster.
“So, we know they’re leading at the moment.
“McLaren are looking great and it’s great to see them taking the step. It will be interesting to see how their long runs are.”
Aussie Ricciardo was beaten by his new teammate and judging by his comments he’s still isn’t comfortable 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.”
2nd session times:
Max Verstappen (NED/Red Bull-Honda) 1:30.847,
Lando Norris (GBR/McLaren-Mercedes) 1:30.942.
Lewis Hamilton (GBR/Mercedes) 1:31.082,
Carlos Sainz (ESP/Ferrari) 1:31.127, Valtteri Bottas (FIN/Mercedes) 1:31.218,
Daniel Ricciardo (AUS/McLaren-Mercedes) 1:31.230,
Yuki Tsunoda (JPN/AlphaTauri-Honda) 1:31.294,
Lance Stroll (CAN/Aston Martin-Mercedes) 1:31.393,
Pierre Gasly (FRA/AlphaTauri-Honda) 1:31.483,
Sergio Pérez (MEX/Red Bull-Honda) 1:31.503,
Esteban Ocon (FRA/Alpine-Renault) 1:31.601,
Charles Leclerc (MON/Ferrari) 1:31.612
Antonio Giovinazzi (ITA/Alfa Romeo-Ferrari) 1:31.740,
Sebastian Vettel (GER/Aston Martin-Mercedes) 1:31.769,
Fernando Alonso (ESP/Alpine-Renault) 1:31.770,
Kimi Raikkonen (FIN/Alfa Romeo-Ferrari) 1:31.862,
George Russell (GBR/Williams-Mercedes) 1:32.331,
Mick Schumacher (GER/Haas-Ferrari) 1:33.297,
Nicholas Latifi (CAN/Williams-Mercedes) 1:33.400,
Nikita Mazepin (RUS/Haas-Ferrari) 1:33.449.