SAKHIR, Bahrain (AP) — Lewis Hamilton's chances of winning the Bahrain Grand Prix took a hit after he was penalized for an unscheduled gearbox change on Friday. The Mercedes driver is expected to drop five places for the start of Sunday's race because of the problem, which was reportedly related to a hydraulic leak sustained during the season-opening Australian GP two weeks ago.
SAKHIR, Bahrain (AP) — Lewis Hamilton's chances of winning the Bahrain Grand Prix took a hit after he was penalized for an unscheduled gearbox change on Friday.
The Mercedes driver is expected to drop five places for the start of Sunday's race because of the problem, which was reportedly related to a hydraulic leak sustained during the season-opening Australian GP two weeks ago.
Drivers must use gearboxes for six consecutive races before being allowed a new one.
The news late Friday came at the end of a frustrating day for Hamilton and Mercedes, with both of its drivers more than half a second slower than the Ferraris of Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel in practice.
Vettel, the winner in Australia, will be hopeful of benefiting from Hamilton's mishap and extending his championship lead.
Hamilton's teammate Valtteri Bottas also needs a new gearbox, but he will not be penalized. He was hit with a five-place penalty for changing his gearbox in Melbourne after crashing in qualifying, so he is allowed a free change for this race. The first of his six consecutive races with the new gearbox will start in Bahrain.
Ferrari looked strong, with Raikkonen and Vettel setting the pace as cooler temperatures and nightfall matched the conditions for Sunday evening's race. Raikkonen's time of 1 minute, 29.8 seconds on the 5.4-kilometer (3.3-mile) desert circuit was a fraction quicker than Vettel's.
Hamilton, who had a patchy first practice session, again looked a bit short of speed.
"We definitely have got some work to do," Hamilton said before incurring the gearbox change.
The defending F1 champion finished fourth, just behind Bottas.
"The car feels OK, but we still need to find some pace, especially for a single lap," Bottas said.
Raikkonen was later investigated for an unsafe release following a pitstop. He escaped a grid penalty and Ferrari was instead fined 5,000 euros ($6,100).
Max Verstappen, who failed to register a time in the first session, was fifth, ahead of Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo — the fastest driver in the first practice.
The Australian was 0.3 seconds quicker than Bottas and 0.4 seconds faster than Raikkonen in the early session. Vettel was fourth and Hamilton fifth. The British driver twice took his Mercedes too wide on corners.
Verstappen's car lost power and stopped on the track in the first session. He got out and helped stewards wheel it back to the team garage. The Dutch driver spun early in the race in Australia, finishing sixth.
"It was not ideal to miss so much track time. It meant that I spent the beginning of the second session searching for the balance of the car," Verstappen said. "I'll try to improve the feeling and balance to put myself in the best position possible."
There will be a third and final practice session on Saturday before qualifying.
Vettel won in Melbourne by profiting from an error by Mercedes to finish ahead of Hamilton, who was leading from pole before his team misjudged Vettel's entrance into the pits after a virtual safety car was deployed.
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