Max Verstappen topped the first and only practice session for the 2023 Qatar Grand Prix in tricky, windy and slippery conditions.
It was a tough first practice session as all 20 drivers struggled to find grip on the newly-surfaced Lusail International Circuit.
And to make things worse, the conditions were quite windy, as almost every driver had an off-road moment at some point in the session.
In the end Verstappen set the pace after a late run on Soft tyres towards the end of the session, as Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc were second and third respectively for Ferrari.
Fernando Alonso and Aston Martin seem to be in a good place as the Spaniard was fourth fastest having used only the Medium Pirelli compound.
All in all, the scene is set for an exciting qualifying session on Friday night in Qatar.
Buildup towards FP1
Formula 1 lands in Qatar for the second time in the Championship’s history after the inaugural race back in 2021, and this time the weekend will have the Sprint format applied.
That means the teams will have only one practice session to dial in their cars, the ground effect machines that will be racing around the Lusail International Circuit for the first time, and even if they have some data from their previous visit, the track has been resurfaced meaning the grip levels will be different as well.
But the most discussed topic this weekend will be Verstappen’s chance to seal his third F1 Drivers’ Crown in a row, as he has the chance to do that during the Sprint Race on Saturday.
While no one knows how things might go down, given we are in the business of motorsport, but it would be hard to find someone who would bet against Verstappen to seal his third Title this Saturday in Qatar.
On non-racing news, we received the news before heading to Qatar that Andretti Cadillac’s bid to become an 11th F1 team was green-lighted by the FIA, with Formula One Management now doing their “due diligence”.
It is far from a done deal for Andretti, but what us for sure, is that we have some interesting times ahead of us with regards to this matter.
Back to racing, Pirelli brought their harder range of tyres this weekend, the C1 (Hard), the C2 (Medium) and the C3 (Soft).
The session started in clear dry conditions with temperatures on the higher side, 42 degrees for the track surface and 35 degrees ambient conditions. But it was quite windy, the wind hitting a speed of 37kph.
Needless to say FP1 conditions will not similar to those of qualifying later on Friday nor the Sprint and the Grand Prix as all will be done in the evening.
The only teams that brought upgrades to Qatar were Alpine, Alfa Romeo, and AlphaTauri.
Alpine have a new floor body with taller diffuser sidewall cut-out in the tyre flank area, as well as a rear drum with a revised orientation of its lower flick geometry. They also brought revised cooling louvres specific to Lusail.
Alfa Romeo, on the other hand, have a new beam wing on their car, while AlphaTauri have a new floor edge on theirs.
Zhou Guanyu was the first driver hit the Lusail International Circuit at the start of FP1 with Medium tyres bolted to his Alfa Romeo, and flow-vis on the rear wing.
Sainz was soon given the instructions not to push as they suspected an issue, but they soon gave the Spaniard clearance to get going. It was a brief issue with a sensor.
Verstappen, who was on Hard tyres, soon gave his verdict on the grip levels; he radioed: “My God, it’s so slippery.”
Sainz joked, referring to his rally Champion father: “My Dad would do well in these conditions.”
The drivers did not waste any time and started putting in the laps, the times dropping massively with every extra lap.
Lando Norris had an off-track moment at Turn 5 and hit one of the polystyrene boards. Verstappen had a moment at Turn 10 a bit earlier, the same for Leclerc also at Turn 5.
The off track moments did not end there, and soon Verstappen hit another polystyrene board himself as well.
The wind was playing a role in making the drivers’ lives more difficult, and soon Esteban Ocon had a snap of oversteer at Turn 12.
The track kept on improving with every lap driven and as much as 5 drivers took turns on the top spot in the timing screens.
Replay showed the Ferrari of Leclerc giving a weird noise and jerk as he was slowing down in the pitlane. He said: “Oh, the didn’t sound good. What happened to the engine?”
The team responded informing their driver they were investigating the issue. The Monegasque was soon back on track.
Halfway into the session the pecking order was: Alonso – Leclerc – Verstappen – George Russell – Norris – Lance Stroll – Sainz – Lewis Hamilton – Sergio Perez – Nico Hulkenberg.
Liam Lawson reported that he was struggling with the rear of his AlphaTauri, reporting he’s losing it when he tried to push the car.
Verstappen lost his RB19 at Turn 6 and went into the run-off area, and had a close call with Hulkenberg as he joined the track.
Leclerc also had a moment and was over the radio asking his team whether the wind had picked up.
Less than 15 minutes from the end, the Soft tyres made their first appearance on Alex Albon’s Williams as the sun started to set. He had a couple of off moments and reporting bad traction on the rear of his car.