A stray dog halted an eventful second practice for Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix after Alexander Albon crashed out at high speed.
Lewis Hamilton celebrated his title coronation by finishing fastest in both sessions at the Sakhir Circuit, but the drama unfolded away from the world champion.
First, the London-born Albon did his decreasing hopes of salvaging a seat with Red Bull few favours when he lost control of his car through the final corner.
After being elevated from AlphaTauri to Red Bull midway through his rookie season, Albon, 24, has endured a troubled second campaign.
And facing mounting speculation here that he will be replaced by Racing Point’s Sergio Perez in 2021, Albon wrote off his Red Bull.
The Thai driver emerged unscathed from the accident, but his Red Bull mechanics were on Friday night facing a hefty repair job following severe damage to the front and rear of Albon’s Red Bull machine.
The running, under the 495 bulbs that light up the circuit here in Manama, was brought to an immediate halt – but only moments after Albon’s stricken car had been removed and the safety barrier patched up, the 90-minute session was red-flagged again when a stray dog broke through a fence and galloped on to the circuit.
Eight drivers on the track at the time gingerly returned to the pits and a five-minute delay ensued.
Peter Bonnington, Hamilton’s race engineer, informed his star driver of the dog at the opening bend. The world champion replied: “I hope it is not Roscoe”, in reference to his pet bulldog who has accompanied the newly crowned seven-time world champion to Bahrain.
Despite the eventful on-track action, it was business as usual for Hamilton at the front.
Hamilton finished almost four tenths clear of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, with Valtteri Bottas third in the other Mercedes. Perez was fourth.
Hamilton has been in a school of one this year, winning 10 of the 14 races staged en route to drawing level with Michael Schumacher’s record with three rounds to spare.
The Englishman’s £40million-a-season Mercedes contract expires at the end of next month, and speaking here, he was critical of the sport’s bosses’ plans to introduce a driver salary cap which could dent his future earnings.
In a meeting of the F1 Commission last month, all 10 team principals, including Hamilton’s Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, agreed to splitting both drivers’ wages within the same team to no more than £22million-a-year from 2023. The concept is subject to ratification but falls into line with the sport’s vision of drastically reducing costs.
Next season a budget cap will be introduced where teams must spend no more than $145million (£112m). This will reduce to $140m (£108m) in 2022 and $135m (£105m) in 2023. Mercedes and Ferrari currently both operate at costs in excess of £300m a year.
But Hamilton said: “The drivers here are the stars of the sport and it is their reputations which elevates the sport and helps it travel around the world.
“If you look at other sports, there have been salary caps in NFL and basketball. But I think the one difference is that those individuals own their image and they can try to maximise that elsewhere. But this sport pretty much controls the driver’s image.
“I do think about the next up-and-coming young stars and I don’t particularly see why they should be handicapped if they’re bringing something huge to the sport. It is a multi-billion pound sport and they should be rewarded.”