Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Max Verstappen fastest in First Practice as Formula 1 returns to Qatar

As Max Verstappen closes in on a third consecutive FIA Formula 1 world championship, the Dutchmen set the pace in Free Practice 1 at the Qatar Grand Prix with a fastest time of 1:27.248.

Verstappen enters tomorrow’s sprint schedule requiring just three points to capture the drivers’ championship, and the early signs suggest that the Oracle Red Bull Racing driver will have every chance to secure the title at the first time of asking this weekend.

Strong winds experienced throughout the day at the Losail Circuit led to the surface of the track being coated in sand, subsequently causing the drivers to tip-toe around in the early stages of the session.

As the drivers struggled to immediately adapt to the slippery conditions on track, Carlos Sainz Jr. remarked that his father, Carlos Sainz Sr., a world champion rally driver, would be better suited to deal with such tricky conditions.

For Scuderia Ferrari, the early signs appear to be positive as Sainz and Charles Leclerc rounded out the top three. Sainz was just 0.334s back from Verstappen while Leclerc was a further tenth back in third place.

However, reliability issues will once again be causing uncertainty inside the Ferrari camp. Sainz was told on his first out lap by his engineer not to push because of an engine concern, while Leclerc reported an unfamiliar sound with his engine as he returned to the pits halfway through the session. Both issues appeared to not hamper the Scuderia’s efforts in practice, but the Italian team won’t welcome the element of uncertainty that such an issue will now present to the team.

Fernando Alonso finished fourth fastest and displayed a strong level of pace throughout the session, which will be a welcome sign for the Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant F1 Team as they look to strengthen their hold of fourth place in the constructors’ standings. Alonso had led the vast majority of the session with a time of 1:28.624 on the hard compound of tyres, but as the sun started to set in Qatar and the track temperature started to fall, a frantic end to the session occurred as the teams took advantage of the track evolution.

Credit: Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant F1 Team

Sergio Perez, Yuki Tsunoda and Nico Hülkenberg rounded out the fastest seven, as all three drivers were able to take advantage of the late running in FP1 and register their fastest times on the soft compound.

George Russell finished eighth fastest, 0.908s off the pace set by Verstappen, while Lewis Hamilton was only able to post the thirteenth fastest time as a head-wind pushed the seven-time world champion wide at turn fourteen, leading to Hamilton having to abort his final lap of the session.

The McLaren F1 Team duo of Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris occupied the final two places of the top ten as both drivers posted their fastest times of the session on the hard compound of tyre. McLaren were perhaps not showing their true speed during practice as earlier reports from the paddock had suggested quiet confidence inside the McLaren camp in being able to challenge Red Bull for the top step on the podium this weekend.

Logan Sargeant was able to narrowly pip his Williams Racing teammate in the standings as the American finished eleventh fastest, 1.122s behind the fastest time, while Alex Albon was just 0.040s behind in twelfth place. The Thai driver struggled in the later stages of the session as his FW45 struggled to take turn four cleanly, leading to Albon having to abandon consecutive push laps.

Lance Stroll claimed fourteenth position, just ahead of the BWT Alpine F1 Team duo of Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly, who were then followed by the Alfa Romeo F1 Team Stake duo of Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu. While Liam Lawson and Kevin Magnussen would round off the bottom two to cap off an action-packed session. The bottom three of the session were all drivers who didn’t experience the 2021 Qatar Grand Prix, F1’s only previous trip to the circuit, pinpointing the potential advantage that previous on-track experience will provide this weekend.

The teams now face a race against the clock to prepare for qualifying later this evening, where the teams also face the dilemma of locking in their setups for this weekend’s action on a Friday evening due to the structure of a sprint weekend.

1 1 Max Verstappen NET Oracle Red Bull Racing 1:27.428
2 55 Carlos Sainz SPA Scuderia Ferrari 1:27.762
3 16 Charles Leclerc MON Scuderia Ferrari 1:27.909
4 14 Fernando Alonso SPA Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant F1 Team 1:27.919
5 11 Sergio Perez MEX Oracle Red Bull Racing 1:28.016
6 22 Yuki Tsunoda JPN Scuderia AlphaTauri 1:28.027
7 27 Nico Hülkenberg GER MoneyGram Haas F1 Team 1:28.171
8 63 George Russell GBR Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team 1:28.336
9 81 Oscar Piastri AUS McLaren F1 Team 1:28.380
10 4 Lando Norris GBR McLaren F1 Team 1:28.441
11 2 Logan Sargeant USA Williams Racing 1:28.550
12 23 Alex Albon THA Williams Racing 1:28.590
13 44 Lewis Hamilton GBR Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team 1:28.679
14 18 Lance Stroll CAN Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant F1 Team 1:28.690
15 31 Esteban Ocon FRA BWT Alpine F1 Team 1:28.732
16 10 Pierre Gasly FRA BWT Alpine F1 Team 1:28.821
17 77 Valtteri Bottas FIN Alfa Romeo F1 Team Stake 1:29.041
18 24 Zhou Guanyu CHI Alfa Romeo F1 Team Stake 1:29.106
19 40 Liam Lawson NZL Scuderia AlphaTauri 1:29.238
20 20 Kevin Magnussen DEN MoneyGram Haas F1 Team 1:29.502