After topping the first practice session in Bahrain, Max Verstappen was again the fastest man on track on Friday evening, with the Red Bull finishing just under a tenth ahead of McLaren's Lando Norris at the end of Free Practice 2.
Lewis Hamilton ensured Mercedes remained in touching distance in third place just ahead of Ferrari's Carlos Sainz, with Valtteri Bottas edging Daniel Ricciardo for fifth.
There was a strong performance for Yuki Tsunoda in seventh while Sergio Perez could manage only tenth in his new Red Bull. Charles Leclerc was 12th while former champions Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen were 14th, 15th and 16th respectively after the Finn lost time for repairs after suffering an early spin.
With Friday's practice sessions trimmed to one hour apiece there was clearly little time to waste. All 20 drivers were quick to head out when the track went green, the post-sunset conditions much more in line with what teams are expecting to encounter in qualifying and the race.
Alpine's Esteban Ocon was first to leave pit lane, but it was the two Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz who were first to set representative lap times. Lewis Hamilton then briefly put Mercedes top with a time of 1:31.647s only to fall foul of the newly reinstated track limits at sanction 4 which caused his time to be deleted.
He was by no means the last with Valtteri Bottas' own first effort similarly deleted, opening the door for Max Verstappen to go top with a time of 1:31.842s. However Bottas responded and went over three tenths faster with his follow-up effort, and then it was Hamilton's turn to show his hand with 1:31.261s. The top three were all on the medium compound, as was Sergio Perez who had moved into fourth ahead of the soft-shod Sainz in fifth.
However it wasn't good news for Alfa Romeo, with Kimi Raikkonen losing the backend of the C41, going off into the gravel at turn 3 and hitting the front wing on the barrier. He was able to get going and limp back to pit lane, where the mechanics scrambled to assess the damage.
Yuki Tsunoda continued to show that his pre-season test pace here had been no fluke, jumping up to second place just 0.033s away from bumping Hamilton off the top spot while his team mate Pierre Gasly confirmed the pace of the AlphaTauri by slipping into third. Sainz then went top, before a change to the soft tyre allowed Hamilton to narrowly resume control with a 1:31.082s despite a less than perfect lap.
Lando Norris was able to briefly put McLaren at the head of the timesheets only for Verstappen to find an extra tenth a few minutes later to go top with a time of 1:30.847s, while Daniel Ricciardo was able to work himself up to sixth place. Just over halfway through the session, the top 15 were still all within a second of the Red Bull's time suggesting that things really had closed up over the winter.
The last 20 minutes saw many of the leading drivers including Verstappen, Hamilton and Bottas switch back to medium tyres for race simulations. The same strategy was also utilised by Aston Margin drivers Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll as well as by Fernando Alonso who was currently 15th fastest.
The bottom four saw a mixing of Williams and Haas drivers, with George Russell best of this sub-class ahead of Mick Schumacher, Nicholas Latifi and Nikita Mazepin who was slowest of all.