George Russell topped the first practice session of the 2023 Azerbaijan Grand Prix, bouncing back from early problems with his steering.
It was a tricky session for all drivers, as the resurfaced Miami International Autodrome offered no grip at all at the start of FP1, with several drivers having off track moments at various areas on the track, that is until Nico Hulkenberg lost his Haas VF-23 coming out of Turn 3 causing the only Red Flag in the session.
Russell spent most of his session in the team garage as the team sorted out a steering problem on his car, and just went back out in the final 15 minutes of the session, but set his time at a point when the grip was best on the track, hence his top spot.
Lewis Hamilton was second fastest in the other Mercedes with Charles Leclerc third in the Ferrari ahead of Verstappen in fourth.
To be fair, Verstappen was in control for most of the session, but put in his best lap a bit earlier on lower grip, so the FP1 standings might not paint a true picture for the pecking order.
Formula 1 heads to Miami just one week after Sergio Perez dominated the sport’s weekend in Azerbaijan winning both the Sprint Race and the Grand Prix and reducing the gap in the Drivers’ Championship to teammate Max Verstappen to only six points with a realistic chance to leave Miami a Championship leader if he sustains his strong form.
The track in Miami is not a classic F1 circuit, more a street circuit, the favorite hunting ground for Perez, dubbed by his Red Bull as the “Street King”, while Verstappen on the other hand prefers a more conventional circuit.
Asked on Thursday in Miami about how he and Perez compare in terms of performance on street circuits, Verstappen said: “I think sometimes some tracks probably suit you a bit better.
“Probably for Checo, his driving style and the way he likes the car probably suits a bit better to a street circuit. I personally don’t really enjoy street circuits. So probably there is also something in that. I prefer more the fast corners, but that’s how it goes. You have a few street circuits on the calendar, a few normal tracks as well,” the Dutchman explains.
So other than the intra-team battle at Red Bull, it would be worth keeping an eye on Ferrari after Charles Leclerc’s qualifying masterclass in Baku with poles for both the Sprint and the Grand Prix, which he unfortunately failed to capitalize on given Red Bull’s superior race pace.
Where will Aston Martin be in Miami after losing out to Ferrari in Baku, and is that DRS finally sorted? What of Mercedes, how will the W14 behave in this weekend before its major upgrade for Imola.
As for this week’s tyre selection from Pirelli; have a look which compounds the Italian tyre manufacturer brought to Miami. How will the tyres behave on the resurfaced track in Miami?
The time to relax is over – #MiamiGP action begins today with practice 🤩
Practice kicked off in sunny conditions with track temperatures at 50 degrees while the ambient temperature was 29 degrees, and if the weather forecasts are right, we will have a rainy Miami Sunday.
Early on, George Russell reported vibrations on the steering of his W14, but the team reported it cannot be sorted. However the Briton seems to insist on fixing the problem.
“I’m really struggling with the steering mate, I’m not going to learn anything like this,” Russell radioed, before returning to the pits and work started on his #63 W14.
Logan Sargeant, who was born just 18 miles away from the Miami track, also reported to his Williams team that he cannot move his head…
On the other had both Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez had identical moments at Turn 1 as the green track caught out both of the Bulls early on. Both Red Bull are featuring a special livery for Miami, and some updates as both are sent out with flow vis.
The track kept causing trouble for various drivers, with Charles Leclerc going while Nyck de Vries brought out Yellow flags after spinning at Turns 11/12.
Verstappen reported the state of the grip around the Miami International Autodrome; he said: “It’s very hit and miss, one millimetre off and you have no grip.”
And indeed, 20 minutes into the session, Alex Albon had a hairy moment at Turn 16, losing the rear end after going off the racing line ever so slightly but just keeping it pointing in the right direction.
Turn 17 on the other hand seemed to be a driver favorite for some off-track excursions with Kevin Magnussen and Lance Stroll both running wide there.
Halfway the session, Verstappen on the Hards was topping the timing screens from Leclerc on the same compound and Fernando Alonso on the Medium, but soon the Soft compound made its debut with Nico Hulkenberg who went to the top of the standings enjoying his 15 minutes of fame, before Verstappen went fastest again.
With 26 minutes remaining from the session, Hulkenberg brought out the first Red Flag of the weekend in Miami, crashing his Haas heavily after going off the line at Turn 3.
The session was restarted after the stricken Haas was removed from the track with 18 minutes remaining on the clock.
Russell rejoined the track after the Red Flag period, having spent more than 30 minutes in the Mercedes garage, as the team worked on his steering, as it seems the team was running a development item on the Briton’s car which caused the issue.
In the final eight minutes of the session, Albon spun at Turn 17, bringing out a brief Yellow Flag, while Pierre Gasly ran wide at the same corner moments later.
“Lost the rear in high speed, I just completely lost it – very strange,” the Frenchman reported.
Carlos Sainz also lost his Ferrari at Turn 1, he reported to his team that it was due to him going off the line where the track is very dirty.
The session was concluded by customary practice starts at the start/finish line.
How they finished
George Russell put in a lap time of 1:30.125 in the dying moments of FP1, to go fastest of all and drop Lewis Hamilton into second place, 0.212s behind.
Charles Leclerc was third fastest in the Ferrari, with a 1:30.449, that was 0.324s off Russell’s time, while Max Verstappen was fourth 0.1s slower than the Monegasque.
Had Verstappen put in another lap towards the end, his time would’ve been much better given the extra grip, but from what we saw throughout FP1, the Dutchman seemed to be in a good place with his RB19, as teammate Sergio Perez struggled and finished 11th.
Carlos Sainz was fifth fastest for Ferrari, six tenths off the pace, while Pierre Gasly was 0.380s further down the road in sixth; a promising start for the Frenchman and Alpine after their Baku nightmares.
Fernando Alonso finished the session seventh fastest for Aston Martin over one second down from Russell’s session-topping time, the Spaniard followed by teammate Lance Stroll in eighth, 0.106s separating the Green Cars.
The time Nico Hulkenberg posted before he binned his Haas was good enough for ninth fastest, which made his crash even more of a pity as the German was enjoying a strong start to his first weekend in Miami.
Esteban Ocon rounded off the top ten in the other Alpine with a lap time of 1:31.542, 1.417s off the benchmark time.