Fernando Alonso dazzled under the lights to set the best time for Aston Martin ahead of Red Bull’s defending double world champion Max Verstappen in Friday evening’s second practice at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.
The 41-year-old Spaniard, driving with the enthusiasm of a man half his age, clocked a best lap in one minute and 30.907 seconds to outpace the Dutchman by 0.169 seconds.
Sergio Perez was third in the second Red Bull, just 0.002 seconds adrift of his team-mate, but six-tenths clear of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, ahead of Nico Hulkenberg of Haas and Lance Stroll in the second Aston Martin.
Pierre Gasly was seventh in his first day with the Alpine team ahead of seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes, Lando Norris of McLaren and Zhou Guanyu of Alfa Romeo.
Alonso, in his first outing with Aston Martin after moving from Alpine to replace retired four-time champion Sebastian Vettel, confirmed the widely-held paddock view that his new team has a much-improved car and will be a threat to the established top teams.
The second ‘sunset’ session began in cooler conditions than those for opening practice, when Perez topped the times for Red Bull, the floodlights blazing as Stroll led the way out of the pitlane in his Aston Martin.
The air temperature had fallen from 25 degrees to 22, but more significantly the track had dropped from 40 to 27, allowing improved tyre performance and a general use of soft slick tyres.
Esteban Ocon set the early pace for Alpine before the Ferrari duo took over, Leclerc displacing Sainz on top with a lap in 1:31.843 after six minutes, all of them exceeding Perez’s earlier pace.
Hamilton, on softs, slotted into third ahead of the two Alpines as Mercedes improved in conditions that were more favourable for them.
Sporting his rainbow-coloured helmet and granted an exemption from the ‘bling ban’ to keep his nose stud, Hamilton appeared to be enjoying himself, before Stroll went top only to be usurped by Hulkenberg, on his first appearance for Haas, and then Perez.
The Mexican’s lap of 1:31.078 did not last long as the standard-setter. Alonso clocked 1:30.907 in his Aston Martin, a lap quick enough to keep him 0.169 seconds clear of Verstappen when the champion moved up to second.
As the field moved into ‘race run’ mode, to analyse the durability of the hard and medium compound tyres in the conditions to be expected in qualifying and the race, Perez expressed frustration.
Having struggled to access lap time data in his cockpit, he was advised on how to use his steering wheel switches. “Man, we cannot have this,” he said.
Stroll, who had cracked both of his wrists in a pre-season cycling accident, was also having problems.
Asked to compromise Turn One for a better line in Turn Two, he admitted: “I can’t. Not with the hands…”
New boys Oscar Piastri and Logan Sargeant, of McLaren and Williams respectively, wound up in 15th and 20th positions, while fellow-rookie Nyck de Vries, with one race behind him as a reserve, was 19th for Alpha Tauri, one place behind team-mate Yuki Tsunoda.
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