Here is our full text transcript from the only free practice session for the 2023 Formula 1 Qatar Grand Prix at the Lusail International Circuit:
Formula 1 is back in Qatar two years after the inaugural event and it’s a Sprint weekend. That means we have just one hour of practice coming up before going straight into Qualifying. More importantly, Max Verstappen can become seal the championship as early as tomorrow. Yep that’s right – on a Saturday.
He needs to finish sixth or higher in the Sprint Race to become a three-time world champion and there has already been a lot of talk about how impressive the Dutchman has been this year.
F1 Sprint weekends mean the teams have just one hour of practice to find the right setup and the optimal tyre working window. Any reliability issues or incidents will be very costly.
But, this session is held in the day when qualifying later on, plus tomorrow’s Sprint and the main Grand Prix on Sunday, take place at night, so track conditions will be very different. Sergio Perez reckons the track will be three seconds faster from practice to qualifying. If you are fast now, you might not be on the pace in qualifying due to the different conditions. A tricky aspect for the teams to contend with.
Away we go for practice at the Losail International Circuit! Most cars are crawling out onto the very sandy circuit. We are in the desert of course, but the wind has really been swirling around so far today – and the drivers will certainly notice on track here at Losail. The wind speed is about 22kph right now.
Max Verstappen says it’s “so slippery” and is almost chuckling to himself on the radio. Carlos Sainz says his dad would be good in these conditions – his father is a two-time World Rally champion.
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53 mins to go: Every car has been out there and it’s Fernando Alonso at the top of the timesheets from George Russell. But, these lap times are “irrelevant” says Karun Chandhok such are the sandy conditions. The lack of grip means drivers makes it no surprise to see drivers running wide already, with Max Verstappen already onto the run-off along with Charles Leclerc in the Ferrari a little earlier.
50 mins to go: It’s now George Russell from Pierre Gasly at the top but the lap times are just falling away with every lap. Remarkably, we are still 12 seconds slower than Lewis Hamilton’s pole time from 2021. That’s staggering. Russell is in the 1:32s when Hamilton’s pole lap was a 1:20.827. That poor polystyrene braking board didn’t last long with Lando Norris now running wide and obliterating it with his McLaren’s front wing.
38 mins to go: Alonso, Russell and Verstappen have been trading top spot in the last 10 minutes. But it’s Leclerc who is quickest on a 1:29.082. You can still see the sand from the rear of the cars, so don’t read too much into these times for now. Alonso, Russell and Verstappen have been trading top spot in the last 10 minutes. But it’s Leclerc who is quickest on a 1:29.082. You can still see the sand from the rear of the cars, so don’t read too much into these times for now.
That didn’t sound good,” reported a concerned-sounding Charles Leclerc as he returned to the pits a few moments ago. “What happened to the engine?” Team-mate Sainz sounded like he had a similar issue at the start of the session and they seemed to sort that out fine. The Monegasque runs second to Alonso on the timesheet, with Sainz seventh so far.
31 mins to go: Most drivers are sat in the garage right now as they wait for the track to clean up. Alex Albon and Logan Sargeant are on long runs, while Esteban Ocon, Pierre Gasly and Kevin Magnussen are out there too. You have just 12 sets of tyres for a Sprint weekend, so the teams might want to save some new rubber for the competitive sessions.
It’s probably safe to assume you can’t read too much in to this given the tricky conditions, and the fact this session is something of an anomaly in this Sprint weekend anyway, but Fernando Alonso will at least be happy to see his name in P1. His 1:28.624s time is nearly half a second up on the rest of the field.
18 mins to go: Carlos Sainz is third and Charles Leclerc is fourth for Ferrari. This is a track full of high and medium speed corners, which are long radius too. The layout certainly wouldn’t have favoured Ferrari earlier this season but they were competitive at Suzuka, another high-speed track, last time out and were not far away from the podium. Just 15 minutes of running left in this sole practice session before night-time qualifying. Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris underline McLaren’s big hopes to continue their form that saw them take a double podium in Japan. Piastri leads Norris, with Fernando Alonso in third. Hopefully we get some soft tyre runs soon.
Alex Albon had to just back out of a hot lap on soft tyres after running off circuit at Turn Four. So he stays down in 16th place for now for Williams, just ahead of team-mate Logan Sargeant. In fact, he’s since gone wide again on a second push lap at the very same corner.
8 mins to go: Some drivers are on new mediums and some are on new softs. The tyre games are already being played here in Qatar. Lewis Hamilton and George Russell are on new mediums but the Haas, AlphaTauris and Williams are on softs. It looks like those who don’t expect to get into Q3 are using a set of soft tyres now, whereas the top teams want to save them
6 mins to go: A very strong lap from Nico Hulkenberg on his qualy sim as he finds three seconds from his previous best lap time. He’s just 0.067s slower than pace-setter Charles Leclerc. But soon Fernando Alonso goes fastest as Logan Sargeant goes sixth. The Red Bull cars are on softs as we are going to get a frantic end to practice here in Qatar.
3 mins to go: It’s that man, again. Max Verstappen vaults to the front of P1 on the soft tyres with a new benchmark of 1:27.428. That’s almost half a second quicker than Fernando Alonso just went, although the Aston Martin was on the slower mediums.
Chequered flag: Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc move into the top three on their soft tyre runs. But, we haven’t seen the Mercedes or McLaren on the fastest tyre compound in this session.
Qualifying is going to be very challenging for these drivers. The track is going to be cleaning up but there’s a high risk that if you get it just a couple of inches wrong and end up on the dust, you’ll be off track. Carrying any extra fuel weight will also be a penalty, so lots of challenges ahead for drivers.
Results from Friday practice at the Qatar Grand Prix, Round 17 of the F1 2023 world championship.