Red Bull’s Max Verstappen edged Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc in second practice at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.
Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz was third with Mercedes driver George Russell fourth, but 0.5 seconds off the pace.
Lewis Hamilton could manage only ninth fastest time in his Mercedes.
Verstappen was 0.084secs quicker than Leclerc as Red Bull and Ferrari seemed to establish themselves as the teams to beat.
Fernando Alonso was fifth for Alpine, but nearly a second off the pace, and ahead of Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas, Red Bull’s Sergio Perez, Haas’ Mick Schumacher, Hamilton and the second Haas of Kevin Magnussen.
McLaren driver Lando Norris was 11th fastest, team-mate Daniel Ricciardo down in 18th place after suffering from a water leak.
Who’s looking hot?
Red Bull and Ferrari also appeared to be closely matched when the teams simulated race fuel loads later in the session, with Verstappen and Leclerc lapping at a similar pace, albeit on a very small sample of laps.
The evidence of the day seemed to confirm that Mercedes are struggling for pace at the start of this season, in which Formula 1 has introduced the biggest regulation change for 40 years in an attempt to close up the field and make the racing more competitive.
The Mercedes car did not look comfortable to drive. The drivers were suffering from “porpoising” on the straight – the consequence of an aerodynamic phenomenon to which these cars are prone in which the downforce level fluctuates at high speed, causing the car to bounce.
Hamilton was also complaining of problems with his front brakes and his DRS overtaking aid.
Russell’s lap suggests the Mercedes have the potential to be third fastest team but they look to be a significant margin behind Red Bull and Ferrari, although a definitive picture will not be seen until after qualifying on Saturday.
Russell said: “We are not where we want to be. We have made a bit of progress solving some issues but the pace is just not there at all at the moment.
“We’re a long way off the pace of Red Bull and Ferrari and even Alpha Tauri and Alfa Romeo seem to be on our pace or even quicker.”
Hamilton added: “It appears as if it is going to be a longer term fix.
“It’s the balance and the bouncing and the loss of downforce we have compared to others. We are a long way off. We’re not bluffing like people assumed we were. It is what it is. We will work as hard as we can through it and do what we can.
“I am just realistic. We are not going to be in the race for a win here. The Red Bulls are a long way ahead. It is in the region of 0.8-0.9secs ahead of us and Ferrari are something like 0.6secs ahead of us. We are fighting with whoever is behind them.”
Analysis of the practice data suggests that the Red Bull is the quickest car, with the Ferrari close behind, while Mercedes will be battling with the group some margin behind that, with McLaren, Alpha Tauri and Alpine.
Red Bull also looked extremely strong on race pace, although Leclerc did do a one-lap race simulation run that was almost a match for Verstappen’s first lap on his run.
“The car felt good,” Verstappen said. “Quite a straightforward and smooth day so I’m really happy with that.”