Alonso has fans dreaming with top time in F1 practice
- Alonso tops first day of practice for Aston Martin
- Verstappen second fastest for Red Bull, Perez third
- Hamilton says Mercedes are on the wrong track
MANAMA, March 3 (Reuters) - Fernando Alonso had his fans dreaming of future glory after the Spaniard beat favourites Red Bull and put Aston Martin top of the timesheets in Friday practice for Formula One's Bahrain season-opener.
The 41-year-old double world champion, who made his F1 debut before McLaren's Australian rookie Oscar Piastri was born and who will be making a record-stretching 356th start, lapped the Sakhir circuit in one minute 30.907 seconds.
The time on soft tyres was 0.169 quicker than Red Bull's double world champion Max Verstappen.
"It's good to see the times, that we are competitive," said Alonso, who took his titles with Renault in 2005 and 2006 and joined Aston Martin from Alpine at the end of last year.
"I would lie if I said it was not feeling good, but everything is relative to what the other teams are doing."
Alonso had set the second best time in the first daylight session, behind Red Bull's Mexican Sergio Perez who was third later on under the floodlights.
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The Red Bull drivers were separated by just 0.002 of a second.
"There's still a bit more work to do, we know we have a competitive car, it's just about putting all the pieces together," said Verstappen.
Alonso has not won a race for a decade, his last coming at the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix with Ferrari, but 'Mission 33' -- adding to his tally of 32 career wins -- has become a rallying cry for fans on social media.
Aston Martin, seventh overall last year, impressed in testing but Red Bull rolled up this week as clear favourites, their car an improved version of the one that triumphed 17 times in 22 races last year.STROLL STRUGGLES
Ferrari's Charles Leclerc was fourth fastest with German veteran Nico Hulkenberg, starting his first full season since 2019, fifth for Haas.
Alonso's team mate Lance Stroll, back in the car despite breaking both his wrists in a cycle accident last month, was sixth.
The Canadian appeared to be struggling to turn the wheel at times, however, and Piastri had to take evasive action at one point.
"I can't man, I can't. With the hands," Stroll told his race engineer when it was suggested he take a different line into a corner.
Once-dominant Mercedes had two lacklustre sessions, with seven times world champion Lewis Hamilton 10th and eighth respectively and team mate George Russell 11th and 13th.
"We found out we are a long way off. We knew that a little bit in the test but it is a big gap. I am trying everything I can but it is what it is and we have to work on it," said Hamilton.
"We are either where we were last year, if not, a little bit further behind.
"We are just on the wrong track. We have to graft away and get ourselves on the right track, but right now we are long way off the guys in front."
Piastri was the highest-placed rookie in both sessions, 12th and 15th, with AlphaTauri's Nyck de Vries 16th and 19th and Williams' Logan Sargeant 18th and 20th.
"I'm still making a few mistakes here and there, so I'm not 100% happy with my driving but I feel like we're in a reasonable place," said Piastri.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ken Ferris, Toby Davis and Christian Radnedge
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