Red Bull's Dutch driver Max Verstappen drives during the afternoon session of the first day of the Formula One (F1) pre-season testing at the Bahrain International Circuit in the city of Sakhir on  Friday
Red Bull's Dutch driver Max Verstappen drives during the afternoon session of the first day of the Formula One (F1) pre-season testing at the Bahrain International Circuit in the city of Sakhir on Friday
AFP

Sakhir (Bahrain): Red Bull driver Max Verstappen was fastest Friday on the first of three days of Formula One testing ahead of the new season, while reliability issues restricted Mercedes' time on track.

Verstappen set the pace with a time of 1 minute, 30.674 seconds on a hot, windy day with sand blowing across the track and restricting visibility. He was .215 ahead of McLaren rival Lando Norris and .472 ahead of Alpine driver Esteban Ocon.

Defending champion Lewis Hamilton was 10th fastest for Mercedes. Teammate Valtteri Bottas only completed six laps in the morning because of a gearbox problem.

He was 17th and last before handing over to Hamilton. Ferrari's preparations were also hit when Charles Leclerc pulled over with a technical problem late in the morning session.

The season starts with the Bahrain Grand Prix at the same track on March 28. The first race of the season in Australia was postponed to November because of travel restrictions.

Testing has been moved from its traditional home in Spain and cut from the usual six days to three as F1 and the teams try to cut costs amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Rookie drivers had a chance to get used to their cars Friday, with Yuki Tsunoda driving for AlphaTauri and an all-new lineup at Haas of Nikita Mazepin and Mick Schumacher, the son of seven-time champion Michael Schumacher.

Two rebranded teams ran in national colors as Aston Martin, formerly Racing Point, took to the track in traditional British racing green, and Alpine, formerly Renault, showed off the French tricolor. Haas has Russian colors on its car because of Mazepin and Ferrari as usual is in red.

A dramatic shakeup in the standings is considered unlikely after seven years of near-total dominance by Mercedes. The teams are still using 2020-specification chassis after sweeping rule changes were pushed back a year to 2022.

There are tweaks to the rules on aerodynamics to stop teams from generating as much downforce from the car's floor.

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