George Russell made a flying start to life at Mercedes by setting the pace in the opening practice session for Formula 1’s Sakhir Grand Prix.

The Briton - who is standing in for Lewis Hamilton after the seven-time world champion was ruled out of the weekend following a positive COVID-19 test - posted a 0:54.546s around Bahrain’s Outer Track, the shortest circuit on the 2020 calendar,  to top FP1 having swapped the slowest car of the grid for the fastest.

Russell ended up 0.176s clear of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who headed teammate Alex Albon by a tenth while Valtteri Bottas finished fourth-fastest in the second Mercedes.

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Bottas was seen struggling with balance and handling in his W11 throughout the session as he had a number of wide moments and damaged his car on his way to lapping 0.322s slower than Mercedes debutant Russell. 

It was a strong FP1 for AlphaTauri as Daniil Kvyat led teammate Pierre Gasly in fifth, with both drivers getting within six-tenths of Russell’s benchmark.

Esteban Ocon was next up in seventh, ahead of Sebastian Vettel, Renault teammate Daniel Ricciardo and Charles Leclerc, who completed the top-10 order for Ferrari.

The Racing Point duo of Lance Stroll and Sergio Perez were 11th and 12th, ahead of McLaren’s Carlos Sainz and the Alfa Romeo pair headed by Kimi Raikkonen.

16th went the way of Lando Norris as McLaren once again prioritised race set-up over one-lap pace, with Kevin Magnussen the highest-placed Haas in 17th.

Nicholas Latifi was 18th ahead of F1 debutants Pietro Fittipaldi and Jack Aitken, who are both contesting their maiden grands prix with Haas and Williams respectively.

Fittipaldi is replacing the injured Romain Grosjean as he continues his recovery from his horrific crash at the Bahrain Grand Prix, while Williams reserve driver Aitken is standing in for Russell.

FULL OPENING PRACTICE RESULTS FOR THE 2020 F1 SAKHIR GRAND PRIX.