Pierre Gasly tops first practice as Formula One returns for the Bahrain Grand Prix

Pierre Gasly led the way in the season opening practice session of the Bahrain Grand Prix, comfortably seeing off world championship rivals Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton in Sakhir.

The Frenchman drove his Alpha Tauri over three tenths quicker than nearest competitor Charles Leclerc, and his Ferrari team-mate Carlos Sainz, who achieved decent times despite the use of medium tyres.

Defending world champion Max Verstappen settled for fifth in the Red Bull, over half a second off the pace as he prepares to begin his title defence in what is looking to be one of the most unpredictable seasons in recent memory following dramatic changes in mechanical regulations over the off-season.

Seven-time championship winner Lewis Hamilton appeared to struggle with the new Mercedes model, three quarters of a second off the pace of Gasly, while new team-mate and countryman George Russell trailed a top-three spot by just two hundredths.

Guanyu Zhou, who today became the first Chinese competitor in Formula One history when he left the garage in the Alfa Romeo finished eleventh, marginally trailing Red Bull’s Sergio Perez.

Team-mate Valtteri Bottas, who is also new to the team, suffered from engine troubles that condemned him to just two laps for the session, rock bottom of the standings after failing to post a time.

After stepping up to drive the Aston Martin on short notice following Sebastian Vettel’s positive COVID test, Nico Hulkenberg placed fourteenth with dreams of claiming that elusive maiden Formula One podium come Sunday.

Somewhat concerningly the McLarens of Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo were over two seconds off the pace, sitting 16th and 17th on the leaderboard.

As always, practice sessions are not always the most indicative of what is to come over the weekend, but it certainly made for fascinating viewing with new regulations levelling the playing field and setting us up for one of the most curious and unpredictable seasons in Formula One history.

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