Lewis Hamilton relished his return on Friday after 12 days’ off by securing a ‘double top’ with the fastest lap in both opening practice sessions at the Bahrain Grand Prix.
After outpacing Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in an incident-filled day, the newly-crowned record-equalling seven-time champion said he was very happy to be back in his Mercedes car – and then lambasted Pirelli as he explained why he was unhappy with their 2021 prototype tyres.
“It is great to be out there again,” he said.
“I always love driving!
“It has been a bit like a test day with a lot of stuff to do and the track has been very dusty.”
Hamilton, who was fastest in the morning’s opening practice, outpaced his rivals again to top the times in the afternoon’s twice red-flagged second session.
He clocked a late best lap in one minute and 28.971 seconds at the Bahrain International Circuit at Sakhir, and then hit out at the quality of the new Pirelli tyres being tested for 2021.
“I’m really trying very hard not to say anything,” he responded when asked about the tyres.
“But they are three kilos heavier and like a second a lap slower.”
Hamilton prefaced his comments with respect and praise for the role of the Italian tyre suppliers in F1 before he gave vent to his feelings, as shared by many other drivers.
“Weekend in and weekend out, every year, we’ve got a team here from Pirelli and I have the utmost respect for the guys who come here and load our tyres up, bring them here and keep us safe – they do an amazing job.
‘It’s a worry’
“Unfortunately, we’ve had the same tyre for two years. At the end of 2019, they brought a new tyre, which they normally do, and it was quite a bit worse so they said ‘ok we’ll just keep the tyre from last year’.
“So they have had two years now to develop a better tyre and we’ve arrived at a tyre which is three kilos heavier and it is like a second worse in lap time.
“I know for the fans that doesn’t make too much of a difference, but, from a driver point of view, we are working with brands and partners who are at the forefront of technology and elevate it.
“If you are going back after two years of development, then I don’t know what is happening! It definitely doesn’t feel good out there and it is a worry.
“I definitely just prefer to stay on these tyres again. If that is the best they can do, which it clearly is, it would just be better to stay with this tyre.”
On a day of inconsistent levels of action, interrupted by red flags when Alex Albon crashed his Red Bull and afterwards by a stray dog on the circuit, his Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas was third ahead of Sergio Perez of Racing Point, Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo and Pierre Gasly of Alpha Tauri.
Lando Norris was seventh for McLaren ahead of Lance Stroll in the second Racing Point, Daniil Kvyat in the second Alpha Tauri and the luckless Albon, who is fighting to keep his Red Bull seat, but who crashed heavily and wrecked his car.
Albon admitted he had pushed too hard when he ran off at the final corner and agreed with the universal drivers’ view on the new tyres they tested.
“The prototype tyres we used at the start — they’re not very much fun to drive on so we’ll see how it goes next year… They’re slow, and not very grippy.
“I think they were about a second off what we have now, which doesn’t bode too well.”