Strong winds made for tricky conditions in the desert during the first free practice session, although a dry day on track was welcome after a few days of uncharacteristically wet weather and cooler temperatures in Bahrain.
Following yesterday's decision by the FIA doctors to rest Fernando for the weekend, the team did a fantastic job to ready chassis #02 for Stoffel Vandoorne, who deputises for Fernando this weekend. Stoffel quickly got to work on a busy aero and mechanical set-up programme. Jenson too, focused on aero and balance work, with both drivers running competitively during both sessions while undertaking a number of different set-up configurations.
As dusk fell and the floodlights were illuminated, the drivers spent time evaluating tyre compounds on different fuel loads, while continuing car set-up work, focusing on both aerodynamic and mechanical balance work. Temperatures remained relatively consistent for most of the day, and we were able to complete a positive day's programme and perform the necessary work to ready ourselves for FP3 and another unpredictable qualifying session tomorrow.
Stoffel Vandoorne: "I turned 24 on Saturday so this is a very good birthday present! Today has been great - I wasn't expecting to drive this weekend, but I'm very happy for this opportunity. I'm going to try and do as good a job as possible for the team. I feel 100 per cent ready for this and today was a very good day for me. I haven't driven this car before but I quickly felt comfortable in the car, progressed quite a lot through FP1 and then had quite a good feeling through FP2 as well.
"The most important thing for us was to do a lot of laps; we did a lot of pit stops, practice starts, the operational stuff, really, to cover all the things I have to learn. During my trip here from Japan I had a lot of preparation work and learning to do - the engineers sent me a lot of stuff and I've been through it all - I spent my time well on the plane! There's still a lot of things we have to go through tomorrow and definitely before the race, but so far everything has been very good.
"I really want to enjoy this opportunity and I'm very excited about the chance I'm getting. Fernando has been around all day beside me and with the engineers, and has been giving me some great advice. We have a great team and I know a lot of the guys around here, so it makes my life a little bit easier to come and work with them. It's definitely not an ideal situation to just jump in the car without any testing, but so far this Friday has been very good during both practice sessions. I've been feeling more and more comfortable, and tomorrow I think that progression is going to continue. I felt very prepared today - I've done a lot of simulator work over the last few months at the factory. Since I got the call, I've done a lot of learning with the engineers, about how to set up the car, and also how to operationally bring the car home during the race. It's been a busy day, but everything went fine. Bahrain is a track I really enjoy and I'm really looking forward to the rest of the weekend."
Jenson Button: "Today was good - FP1 and FP2 were both competitive, and it's nice to have a car that feels good beneath me, one we can really work with and see good gains. It was only practice today, but it was a lot more fun than normal! High-fuel runs weren't too bad either - overall it's been a positive day. There's still a lot of work to do tomorrow on long runs, especially on the harder compounds, when I'm sure the other cars will be more competitive tomorrow. But, we were third quickest today, and that's a positive. There are certain areas where we need to improve, and I think we still can improve. We have to do a good job as a team tomorrow and make sure we don't make any mistakes.
"We had no problems today reliability-wise, everything was good. It's fun to have a car that's enjoyable to drive. The balance is reasonable and the car is feeling nice around here, which is definitely better than Melbourne. I think when you're third in FP2 and it's not because of changeable conditions or anything, you've got to be thinking about getting into Q3 - it has to be the aim.
"Stoffel has done a really good job today - he's fitted in as you would expect, he's a very talented driver, so we'll see what we can do as a team tomorrow. I think there'll be cars that slip in between us, but it's a positive start, we didn't do anything unusual, and hopefully we'll continue to improve tomorrow."
Eric Boullier, Racing Director: "Today has been a largely satisfying and successful day. After the decision was made by the FIA medical team yesterday that Fernando could not race, the team quickly and professionally managed the situation and performed the relevant changes required to ready Fernando's side of the garage for Stoffel's debut in the MP4-31 as reserve driver.
"Stoffel demonstrated his professionalism by getting straight into the car and settling into free practice very quickly. Both he and Jenson had a positive day of running, and Stoffel fitted in seamlessly with the programme as we knew he would, providing excellent feedback and performing valuable set-up and aero tests. Although our pace looks very encouraging, it's still only Friday and as always there's a lot of work to do overnight.
"As in Australia, we have brought upgrades to Bahrain and spent time evaluating the new parts and bedding them in to the package. Reliability-wise we've enjoyed another strong day, completing a good number of laps which enabled us to gather a lot of useful data that we will take into tomorrow's sessions.
"Qualifying, once again, is likely to be tricky to manage; and unpredictable - especially in the midfield positions, but today's running has been encouraging and we hope to carry this momentum into tomorrow, where we hope to demonstrate the potential in our package."
Yusuke Hasegawa, Honda R&D Co Ltd Head of F1 Project & Executive Chief Engineer: "First of all, we are very disappointed that Fernando cannot race this weekend, but our first concern is for his health and it is important that he takes time to recover properly.
"On the other hand, we are excited to see Stoffel in the car for the first time, and we are looking forward to watching his performance over the weekend. All of the team will do as much as possible to back him up and to help him get the best out of the car.
"The weather on the first day of running in Bahrain was rather chilly and therefore there was no anxiety about the car overheating, which we usually find at this circuit. In both FP1 and FP2 sessions, the power units ran smoothly, which enabled the team and drivers to do consistent running to progress the car's set-up for tomorrow onwards."
Check out our Friday gallery, here.