Barcelona FP1: Verstappen flying solo up front

Barcelona FP1: Verstappen flying solo up front

Max Verstappen was off to a flying start of his Formula 1 weekend in Barcelona, fastest of all in FP1 for the 2023 Spanish Grand Prix.

Such was Verstappen’s advantage around the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya that he ended practice a whopping  0.768s faster than teammate Sergio Perez, who was second fastest in the sister Red Bull.

Monaco podium finisher Esteban Ocon was third fastest for Alpine, the French team looking good for the next weekend in a row. Ocon was 0.812s off the pace.

The early signs from FP1 prove what everyone has suspected; that the RB19 will be able to flex its muscles around the Barcelona track as Red Bull will be having a bigger advantage over the field.

Local hero Fernando Alonso was down in sixth place almost one second slower than Verstappen.

Buildup towards FP1

After was what a thrilling Monaco Grand Prix, F1 was back to a venue with a classic track layout, the Circuit de Barcelona Catalunya, and with that, there are many points to look out for.

The track will feature a revised layout with the chicane (Turns 14 and 15) removed reverting the layout to its pre-2007 design with the high-speed, sweeping right-hander making a return.

While Red Bull was expected to be less dominant in Monaco, they passed that challenge with flying colors; it was not a walk in the park for them, but they showed how good they are  – the Verstappen/RB19 combo – and are expected to be on a different level in Barcelona this weekend.

Staying in the Red Bull camp, Perez will be under to pressure to make up for his atrocious weekend in Monaco, a street circuit of which he’s the supposed King. Instead he ended up delivering a clumsy race down the grid instead of challenging his teammate.

Mercedes, who debuted their revised W14 in Monaco, had a decent race, fourth and fifth for Lewis Hamilton and George Russell, and while that was a positive first race in an upgraded car, the true test for the B-Spec W14 will be in Barcelona. Here Mercedes and everyone else will find out how good a step the eight-time F1 Constructors’ Champions have made.

Ferrari on the other hand have had a terrible weekend in Monaco, but an upgraded SF-23 is expected to debut this weekend and the spotlight will be on the Reds to improve and close the gap to Mercedes, and Aston Martin, that is if they can do so.

What of Alpine? Any chance they can deliver another strong weekend, or was Monaco a fluke?

What of Alonso? His last win in F1 was achieved in Barcelona back in 2013. Will his home crowds give him an extra gear to achieve his 33rd? He won’t be lacking any motivation for sure.

On the tyres’ front, Pirelli have gone towards the Hardest compounds in their range with the C3 (Soft), C2 (Medium), and the C1 (Hard) compound available for the teams.

Pirelli will also be offering two sets of slick tyres, with a new compound, for each driver to test during FP1 ahead of the tyres’ debut in Silverstone later in the season.

The new tyres were planned for 2024, but Pirelli brought them forward for 2023 due to the extra downforce the F1 cars are producing which is putting more load on the current specification of the Italian rubber.

Barcelona FP1 session highlights

While Mercedes brought some tweaks to the W14 following the major upgrade package in Monaco (tweaks on mirrors vane and diffuser side profile), the major attraction was Ferrari’s updated SF-23.

Ferrari seem to have abandoned their in-wash philosophy, and shifted towards a Red Bull inspired down-wash solutions as can be seen from the new sidepods of the SF-23.

Ferrari also has a revised floor edge to work along with the new sidepods as well as a revised top rear wing profile, to meet the aerodynamic requirements of Barcelona.

“This development focuses on flow conditioning towards the rear wing assembly and rear corner, combined with a different cooling flow management, for overall car efficiency improvements,” Ferrari said of its updates.

Red Bull also are resting on their laurels. Their dominant RB19 featured a revised floor edge and a re-profiled diffuser with top corner featuring more curvature.

On to practice, FP1 kicked off in clear conditions, track temperatures in the region of 42 degrees, while the ambient temperatures at 25 degrees.

All but six F1 cars set out on track at the start of FP1 with the Pirelli test tyres bolted on. Hamilton, Russell, Nico Hulkenberg, Alex Albon, Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris were the ones of bucked the trend.

Ferrari split their strategy for FP1, with Carlos Sainz using the new sidepods, Charles Leclerc using the old one, the team running back comparisons.

Russell soon reported bouncing on the final corner that was reinstated on the Barcelona track for this season.

“A bit of bouncing on the entry of that last corner,” the Briton reported.

Perez soon reported the same problem with his RB19 in the final corner. He reported to his team: “I am starting to bounce as I go into the final corner.”

Verstappen, Perez both are running new Internal Combustion Engines, new Turbochargers, new MGU-H’s, and new MGU-K’s. The same applies to Lando Norris, the difference is that the McLaren driver has previously used two of these elements, Verstappen and Perez only 1.

Alonso is running a new energy store and new control electronics. The same applying to Williams’ Logan Sargeant, while Hulkenberg is running new control electronics on his Haas.

Piastri has a new exhaust system installed in his MCL60, his fourth this season. He can used eight before receiving a penalty.

Verstappen reported bouncing issues as well; he told his team: “The car is bouncing under braking onto Turn 10, and the last corner.”

Similar issues for Norris who told the McLaren pit wall: “Porpoising and bottoming into the last corner. It’s upsetting the car quite a bit.”

In the second half of FP1, the teams set out on race simulations with high fuel loads.

In the dying moments of first practice session, Pierre Gasly and Sargeant had close moment with a slight touch in Turn 10.

How they finished

Verstappen lapped the Circuit de Barcelona Catalunya fastest of all, clocking a 1:14.606 and was 0.768 faster than teammate Perez in second.

Ocon slotted in third, 0.812s slower than Verstappen, while Nyck de Vries took a surprise fourth in the AlphaTauri, a mere 0.086s slower than Ocon.

Gasly was fifth fastest in the other Alpine, as the Enstone squad seem to be in good shape in Barcelona. Gasly was 0.127s slower than his teammate.

Alonso had a slow start for his home grand prix weekend. He was sixth fastest in FP1, 0.941s slower than Verstappen, with Kevin Magnussen 0.142s behind the Spaniard in seventh.

Leclerc, running the old spec SF-23 in FP1 was eighth fastest for Ferrari, 1.088s off the pace, while teammate Sainz was 0.042s slower in the upgraded Prancing Horse, ninth.

Russell rounded off the top ten, with a 1:15.753 in the Mercedes W14, 1.147s away from the benchmark. Hamilton was down in 12th, 0.092s slower than his teammate.

FP1 Official Results