Qatar FP1: Verstappen leads into the unknown

Verstappen leads into the Qatari unknownFormula 1 teams took to the Losail International Circuit for the first time ever for FP1 of the 2021 Qatar Grand Prix, with the session ending with Verstappen leading into the unknown.

Despite being in Qatar, the spirit of the Sao Paulo Grand Prix was hovering over the Losail paddock, with the Stewards’ decision on Mercedes’ request for review of the Turn 4 incident on lap 48 of the Grand Prix still pending, and the talking point of the F1 community.

On to the F1 business

All 20 drivers set out to explore their latest playground, and make the best use of their first 60 minutes around Losail, as they aimed to learn the track and discover the limits of their F1 machinery, while putting down rubber on the green and dusty track surface.

Most of the teams ventured out on track using the Medium and Hard tyre compounds first, before bolting on the Soft tyres for some qualifying simulations.

Max Verstappen took an immediate liking to the latest addition to the F1 calendar, and ended the first practice session with the best time of 1:23.723, ahead of his former teammate Pierre Gasly in second place, and 0.437s off the Dutchman’s pace.

Valtteri Bottas was the fastest of the Mercedes pair a further 0.034s off the Frenchman.

Seven-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton was fourth, a whopping 0.786s off his title rival’s time. Notably the Briton was called into the team’s garage with 10 minutes remaining, for an undisclosed issue with his W12.

Fifth went to the other AlphaTauri driver, Yuki Tsnoda, whoseems yo be off to an encouraging start to his weekend but 0.925s off the benchmark time.

Outside the top five

Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz was sixth almost one second off the pace, with his teammate Charles Leclerc just behind him in seventh, the Scuderia pair separated by just 0.077s.

Sergio Perez was nowhere near his teammate in the sister RB16B, almost 1.2s slower than Verstappen. Not a good start for the Mexican who has been running closer to his teammate in recent races.

Esteban Ocon was ninth for Alpine, 1.249s off the top time, with Lando Norris tenth almost 1.5s off the best time.

Notably out of the top ten

Daniel Ricciardo was 11th in the other McLaren, 0.076s off Norris, on a day where McLaren still seem far from reeling in Ferrari. But at least the Aussie was having fun.

Fernando Alonso was way down on his younger teammate in 17th, almost as second off Ocon.

Aside from Verstappen’s early form, results from FP1 in Qatar should be taken with a pinch of salt as the teams are yet to adapt to the new circuit, with the pecking order expected to evolve over the course of the weekend and towards qualifying and the race.(Follow me on Twitter @MallakJad)

Qatar FP1 Results: