Max Verstappen blows Lewis Hamilton out of the water leaving Mercedes to play catch up

F1: Red Bull's Verstappen gets in shape for new season

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Max Verstappen has dominated all three practice sessions ahead of qualifying for the opening race of the 2021 Formula One season in Bahrain, beating Lewis Hamilton to the top of the times.

And in final practice, it wasn’t even close. Verstappen topped the timing screens by a massive seven tenths, nearly three-quarters of a second, over Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, showing Red Bull really are championship contenders this season.

Speaking to Sky Sports F1, 2009 world champion Jenson Button said it was an outstanding effort.

“I think we’re all wondering how that just happened,” said Button.

“It’s the only lap I didn’t see as we were on the way to the paddock, but it was very, very impressive.

“One, because he’s 1.3 seconds in front of Checo, who is no slouch around here especially, but to be seven tenths up on Lewis, really looking forward to seeing if he can carry that over to quali.”

Lando Norris raises McLaren concern ahead of Bahrain Grand Prix

Heading into the final practice session of the weekend, track temperatures were nearly hitting 50 degrees, meaning many drivers sat out the first 10 minutes of the hour session.

However when drivers finally did get out Valtteri Bottas seemed to be struggling with the handling of his Mercedes, having the majority of his lap times deleted throughout the session due to track limits, eventually finishing fourth.

It was a pretty jumbled up session, with AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly third fastest, Sergio Perez in the other Red Bull P5 and Kimi Raikkonen in the Alfa Romeo finishing P7, leaving even more questions to be answered come qualifying at 3pm.

Heading into the weekend, Red Bull had been sending Mercedes warning shots on track, with glimpses of their speed throughout pre-season testing and practice sessions.

Toto Wolff expects Red Bull and McLaren ‘dogfight’ in Bahrain
Max Verstappen makes Mercedes and McLaren prediction after practice
Max Verstappen makes Mercedes and McLaren prediction after practice

However speaking ahead of the practice sessions, Verstappen had remained tight lipped about the team’s confidence, and if they can bring the fight to Hamilton and Bottas.

“I have been repeating this now for a few weeks. We will see,” he said.

Verstappen finished third in the drivers standing’s at the end of last year, after Hamilton dominated much of the season.

Hamilton meanwhile felt Mercedes were making positive steps heading into what could be a tricky weekend for the seven-time champions.

The 36-year-old explained: “I definitely do [feel like we’ve taken steps forward]. Coming into this weekend we’d done a lot of work over the past week. I think we have taken a step forward but we still have more to do. With tyres and downforce reduced, the global balance has just shifted and it wasn’t where we wanted.

“This weekend it’s looking better but it’s still not perfect. We’re working as hard as we can. We’ve got great people working in the background. I know that we still have a hill to climb but we’re staying positive.

“We thought Red Bull would be as fast as they are if not faster. We know they’re leading at the moment. McLaren are looking great and it’s great to see them taking a step.”

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