Austin FP1: Verstappen tops, Leclerc and Hamilton chase

Austin FP1: Verstappen tops, Leclerc and Hamilton chase

Austin FP1: Verstappen tops, Leclerc and Hamilton chase

Max Verstappen set the fastest time in the first and only practice session for the 2023 United States Grand Prix, but Charles Leclerc and Lewis Hamilton were close behind.

The triple Formula 1 Champion however did not enjoy a huge margin over Leclerc who was second fastest in the Ferrari while Hamilton was third.

The seven-time F1 Champion seemed to be in a good place in his W14, equipped with a new floor, and should’ve been closer to the top had it not been for a mistake on his final flying lap where went wide at Turn 12.

Also worth noting that Verstappen made a mistake on his flying lap which may have cost him a tenth or two.

Nevertheless, if those three can maintain their form, chances are that we would be treated to quite a thrilling qualifying for Sunday’s grand prix.

McLaren were way off the pace, Lando Norris in 15th, Oscar Piastri in 19th, but it should be noted that they did not set any time on the Soft tyres, but the MCL60 did not seem very happy around the Circuit of the Americas.

Buildup towards FP1

After a weekend off, the F1 circus was back in full swing for the 2023 Unites States Grand Prix in Austin with both the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships sealed by Verstappen and Red Bull Racing.

That was not a surprise as Verstappen’s form since Miami in particular meant the Title will be sealed with races to spare, and the Dutchman could’ve done that even earlier had it not been to his nightmare Singapore Grand Prix.

But let’s look at the positives. McLaren, with Norris and Piastri are showing us how they are getting better with every race, especially Piastri who won the Sprint in Qatar and keeps getting better with every extra mile he spends in the MCL60.

So how much ground with the Woking squad cover from now till the end of the season? Can the beat Aston Martin? Can they beat Ferrari? How will those two fight back?

Daniel Ricciardo will make his return to racing after breaking his hand in Zandvoort. How will the Aussie get on? Will he suffer after his injury? Will he be on it from the word go?

The Circuit of the Americas does not have the same characteristics as the Lusail International Circuit, so expect the pecking order – behind Red Bull that it – to be shuffled, as Norris also claims he doesn’t feel confident this weekend.

It will also be a Sprint weekend, so it would be worth seeing whether Austin can deliver an exciting Saturday show like the one Qatar delivers.

As for the tyres, Pirelli has brought the C2 (Hard), C3 (Medium), and C4 (Soft) this weekend.

Austin FP1 session highlights

We might be in the final part of the season, but some teams are still bringing upgrades, as Mercedes brought a new floor body and a new edge to their W14.

Alfa Romeo have a new floor edge as well, while Aston Martin have brought a more significant package, with the AMR23 featuring a new floor edge, a new diffuser, a new engine cover, and a revised beam wing.

But Haas and AlphaTauri have gone all out with their upgrades, the former finally unleashing the much needed upgrade package Nico Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen were yearning to have.

The American outfit, for their second home race this season have brought a radically different VF-23 that now adopts the Red Bull philosophy with a new front brake duct, a new floor body and floor edge.

The Haas as new sidepod inlets, a new engine cover,  and new cooling louvres, not to mention their special liver for Austin.

As for AlphaTauri, on the other hand, have a new floor body, new floor fences, new floor edge, a new engine cover, while the team modified the forward chassis lower surfaces, while the BDR winglets on the rear corners have been also revised for better diffuser performance.

FP1 started in clear conditions, with ambient temperatures of 32 degrees Celsius, while track temperatures were in the region of 38 degrees Celsius.

No time to waste, all drivers lined up on at the pit exit to try to make the most out of the only practice session this weekend to get ready for qualifying later today.

Liam Lawson was back on the sidelines, watching the proceedings from the AlphaTauri garage, after impressing when he deputized for Ricciardo.

All 20 cars set out on tack with Medium or Hard tyres at the beginning of FP1, Red Bull, Mercedes, Aston Martin, Ferrari, Alpine, on Hards, the rest on Mediums.

Ten minutes into the session, Carlos Sainz and Norris had quite a close call on track, the former almost collecting the McLaren while on a fast lap. Thankfully there was no contact.

“Oh my god, whoa!” Sainz radios. “Lando there, I think he didn’t see me but we nearly crashed.”

15 minutes into the session, Aston Martin called Lance Stroll in, reporting a problem with the brakes and asking him not to use them on his way back until he needs to park.

“We have an issue front-left corner,” Stroll’s engineer tells him. “Do not use the brakes until you have to [when entering the box].”

Soon the mechanics were taking the #18 AMR23 apart for repairs, as it seems Alonso’s car was also being looked at for similar issues.

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff who missed the last two races for undergoing knee surgery was back leading his team in Austin.

Sainz soon complained about bouncing in his SF-23, he said: “The car is jumping around a lot on the straights, just for your info.”

Leclerc also seemed to be suffering from the same issues in the other Ferrari.

Halfway into the session, Hamilton was fastest, 0.104s ahead of Verstappen in second, who was in turn 0.107s faster than Norris in third.

Is that new floor on Hamilton’s Mercedes doing the trick?

Piastri had quite a moment as he lost the rear coming out of Turn 9, but some excellent car control meant he he caught the snap and kept going after a rough ride through the run-off area.

Hamilton had a brief off moment at Turn 1 while on a long run with high fuel load. No harm done, and by the way his times were competitive.

With 16 minutes remaining, the teams started switching to the Soft tyres for some qualifying simulations ahead of the read deal later today.

At Aston Martin, Fernando Alonso was back on track while Stroll was out of the car, as the team continued work on it. No more running for the Canadian. The last thing he needed was to go into qualifying unprepared.

Towards the end, Verstappen reported that his seat was getting hot, while Hamilton ran wide at Turn 12 while on a fast lap on Softs.

With the session over, the drivers did some practice starts.

How they finished

Verstappen clocked a 1:35.912 to go fastest at the end of Austin FP1, 0.156s ahead of Leclerc in second, and 0.281s faster than Hamilton in third.

But expect the Mercedes ace to find some more speed in his W14 come qualifying.

Sergio Perez was fourth fastest in the other Red Bull, 0.300s slower than his teammate and 0.260s faster than Magnussen who was a strong fifth.

George Russell was sixth fastest, 0.562s off the pace and 0.018s ahead of Alex Albon who was seventh fastest in the Williams.

Sainz was eighth fastest in the Ferrari, with a lap time of 1:36.533, and 0.169s faster than Hulkenberg who was ninth in the second Haas.

Pierre Gasly was tenth in the Alpine, while Ricciardo was 14th fastest on his return to racing,

FP1 Results