Alonso has fans dreaming with top time in F1 practice

Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso has set his fans dreaming of what might be to come with the fastest lap ahead of favourites Red Bull in practice for Formula One's Bahrain Grand Prix season-opener.

The 41-year-old Spaniard, who debuted in F1 before McLaren's Australian rookie Oscar Piastri was even born and will be making a record-stretching 356th start, lapped the Sakhir circuit in one minute 30.907 seconds on Friday.

The time on soft tyres was 0.169 quicker than Red Bull's double world champion Max Verstappen.

Alonso had also 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.

In contrast, Piastri found the going hard on his debut, finishing 12th and 15th fastest in his two sessions as well as sliding off the track in both the morning and afternoon.

The double world champion 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 Alonso fans on social media.

Aston Martin impressed in testing with quick long runs and plenty of laps but Red Bull rolled up this week as the clear favourites, their car an improved version of the one that triumphed 17 times in 22 races last year.

Ferrari's Charles Leclerc was fourth fastest with German veteran Nico Hulkenberg, starting his first full season since 2019, fifth for Haas.

Alonso's Canadian team mate Lance Stroll, back in the car despite breaking both his wrists in a cycle accident last month and clearly still struggling with the injury, was sixth.

Once-dominant Mercedes had two quiet sessions, with seven-times world champion Lewis Hamilton 10th and eighth respectively and teammate George Russell 11th and 13th.

Piastri was the highest-placed rookie in both sessions, with AlphaTauri's Nyck de Vries 16th and 19th and Williams' Logan Sargeant 18th and 20th.