Formula 1

Bridge leaks, Russell crashes: What happened in final 2023 F1 test

by Edd Straw
5 min read

Alpine driver Esteban Ocon set the pace on the final day of Formula 1 running in 2023 in Abu Dhabi.

A total of 25 drivers ran in the combined young driver test and 2024 tyre test, with Ocon hitting the top of the timesheets with an hour to go and ending up just under three-tenths faster than McLaren’s Pato O’Ward, who set his time with 44 minutes remaining, and Frederik Vesti - who improved to third for Mercedes in the final minutes of the session.

Sergio Perez was fourth fastest, less than a tenth quicker than Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz, who was driving the car Charles Leclerc raced last weekend. The team indicated that was planned before it travelled to Abu Dhabi rather than as a response to the Spaniard’s difficulties during last weekend's season-ending grand prix.

A strange red flag

The test started 25 minutes late thanks to the wait for the medical helicopter, meaning that running had only been going on for 36 minutes when the first red flag was thrown. This was thanks to what was described as a 'water leak' between Turns 13 and 14.

This emanated from the bridge across the track that’s connected to the W Hotel. The leak was not only water, but also included an oily substance, requiring a 24-minute stoppage for it to be cleaned up.

Russell crashes

The second and red flag of the day was caused by George Russell crashing at Turn 6. This led to a 25-minute delay while his car was recovered, being brought back to the pits with front-right damage. This was the result of what the team described as “an accident caused by car failure” and brought his day to an early end.

Jake Dennis, driving for Red Bull, had a spin at the Turn 12 left hander mid-afternoon, but was able to recover so the session wasn’t interrupted, with Williams driver Zak O’Sullivan also spinning at Turn 1 with 77 minutes of running remaining.

There was a third red flat with 37 minutes remaining triggered by Ayumu Iwasa stopping at the last corner in a cloud of smoke.

Tyre testing

This day of tyre testing usually offers the chance for teams to run the new-specification rubber for 2024. However, the Pirelli tyres that will be used next year will be identical in compound and construction to this year’s rubber.

The sporting regulations dictate that the tyre-test car must run to a specification that was used in one race weekend during testing over the past two years. That means all 10 teams ran their 2023 machines.

Four teams ran both of their race drivers in the tyre-test car with Ferrari, Aston Martin, Williams and AlphaTauri splitting the day. Red Bull (Perez), Mercedes (Russell), McLaren (Oscar Piastri), Alfa Romeo (Zhou Guanyu) and Alpine (Ocon) ran just one race driver, while Haas gave an outing to its F1 reserve driver Pietro Fittipaldi - who completed the most laps of anyone (130).

Perez’s day of experimentation

Perez had the chance to test the Red Bull RB19 for the whole day, completing 117 laps. With tyre testing of limited value, this effectively became an opportunity for him to experiment with set-up and driving styles after his 2023 struggles.

Perez finished the season relatively well after three days spent at the Red Bull factory in the simulator and in discussion with engineers as he attempted to arrest a slump in form. The chance for a day of testing at the end of the year outside of a grand prix weekend was therefore an important opportunity to build on that ahead of 2024.

O'Ward sets the young driver pace

IndyCar ace and 2024 McLaren reserve driver O’Ward was quickest of the 'young drivers' in second place and clearly revelled in having the chance to build on his FP1 outing last Friday. He experienced a wide-ranging runplan that helped him to build his confidence in the car to an even higher level.

“The runplan today was a little bit of everything,” said O’Ward. “We did 103 laps, just in the morning it was 73 or something, and they were continuous laps, not many cooldowns.

“We did more than a full race distance, which was a first for me, just really reading the car on the tyre deg, getting to push it, getting to experience what does it do when you lock the rears, when you lock the fronts, what does it do when you lose the rear, do you need more downforce? All these things add up to quite a lot of laptime.

“These cars are so capable that you need that confidence in them in order to extract the laptime. In the afternoon when we did the low-fuel runs, the way that you can attack the car compared to a high-fuel or a mid-fuel is a big difference, just the commitment and the confidence you have to have in it.

“It feels unbelievable. They are just machines.”

Vesti ended up a mere 0.017s slower in the second Mercedes than O'Ward while Alpine’s Jake Doohan was third fastest of the young drivers in seventh, just ahead of Ferrari’s Robert Shwartzman.

F1 test debuts at AlphaTauri and Williams

Two drivers made their F1 test debut in the young driver test car: Iwasa for AlphaTauri and Franco Colapinto for Williams.

Colapinto completed 65 laps and ended the day 22nd, but then handed the car over to fellow Williams driver academy prospect O’Sullivan, who ran for the final three-and-half hours having had his first taste of the car in FP1 last Friday.

Iwasa, who will race in Super Formula for Team Mugen next year having finished fourth in Formula 2 in 2023, was 15th fastest and completed 96 laps before his day came to an early end.

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