Mercedes throws down the gauntlet ahead of F1 Bahrain Grand Prix

Midway through Thursday’s second practice session, former Formula 1 driver and current F1TV analyst Jolyon Palmer dropped this little nugget:

“Why do we cover pre-season testing?”

The reason? After three days of practice in Bahrain last week, the sentiment around the F1 world was that Red Bull had done it again with the RB20, and behind them, Ferrari was in position as “Team Two.”

But then the second practice session ahead of the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix took place, and Mercedes threw down the gauntlet, prompting the above question from Palmer.

Lewis Hamilton rocketed to the top of the timing sheets during FP2, a session that saw every team bolt on soft tires and lay down some practice qualifying laps. Right behind him? Teammate George Russell, as the session finished with a Mercedes 1-2 atop the board.

Perhaps even more worrying for the rest of the field? Fernando Alonso finished in P3 in his AMR24, and with Aston Martin on the grid as a Mercedes customer team, that marks three Mercedes power units at the top of the board.


It was enough to almost cause a smile to break out on Toto Wolff’s face:

As for Will Buxton on F1TV, he had this to say after the session: “If you’re a Mercedes fan, you can start to dream.”

Coming out of pre-season testing, there were signs that Mercedes was confident in the W15, their challenger for the 2024 campaign. Both Russell and Hamilton sounded optimistic coming out of last week, with Russell stating the team was in a “much better place” than they were a year ago, and Hamilton calling the W15 “nice to drive.” Andrew Shovlin, the team’s Trackside Engineering Director, was also positive in the team’s post-testing media recap:

“We’ve had three useful days here in Bahrain and managed to make good progress understanding the W15. Compared to last year’s car, the feedback from the drivers is very different and more positive, which is encouraging. The team has worked hard to iron out the handling flaws that were integral to the W14, and it’s great that we seem to have put a number of those problems behind us.”

Still, testing is one thing, and the run-up to a grand prix is another. During testing last week teams were running different programs with different fuel loads, so it was tough to get a true sense of where teams stacked up in the pecking order. That was also the case during FP1 earlier in the day, as some teams focused on longer runs while others put in some qualifying runs.

But with every team attempting some qualifying runs in the second session, it gave us perhaps our first representative look at where the teams stand.

Still, there are other points to consider. Late in the session Max Verstappen put together some race simulation runs, and he was extremely consistent over those. Then there were still questions over whether Red Bull and Ferrari were showing their true hand, with McLaren CEO Zak Brown suggesting during FP2 that both those teams were running at a lower power level, given the data they had seen.

So, we might need to wait until qualifying tomorrow to truly see everyone’s hands.

But at least right now, it seems like Mercedes might have a strong one to play.

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