Max Verstappen started his bid to seal a third straight Formula 1 world championship by setting the fastest time in the only practice session for the Qatar Grand Prix before qualifying.
- Verstappen comfortably quickest in tricky session
- Low grip and sprint format pose extra challenges
- Track 3.7s slower than in 2021
This is the first sprint weekend since the summer break and the usual challenge of dialling in the car with just 60 minutes of running before qualifying and parc ferme conditions begin was exacerbated by the specific challenges of this race.
After missing Qatar in 2022 due to the country hosting FIFA’s men’s football World Cup, F1 has returned to a slightly different Lusail circuit – lots of dust and a low-grip, resurfaced track on top of familiar problems of warm conditions and low-lying sun for this session.
Several drivers had big slides and off-track moments, exacerbated early on by the bulk of the running being done on the hardest Pirelli tyres.
But it continued right through the session, best illustrated when Alex Albon bolted on a set of softs with around 10 minutes left and had to abort two laps because of big moments.
Verstappen leapt to the top of the times on softs in the closing stages to end up fastest by more than three tenths of a second ahead of Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz.
Charles Leclerc had several slides off-track during the session but ended up third-fastest, 0.481s slower than Verstappen, with Fernando Alonso the leading driver on medium tyres in fourth – 0.010s behind Leclerc.
Sergio Perez was fifth, six tenths slower than Red Bull team-mate Verstappen, while Yuki Tsunoda was only fractionally slower when he jumped to what was eventually sixth on his final lap.
At the foot of the top 10 were the two McLarens, a second adrift, although they set their fastest times on the hardest compound – Oscar Piastri pipped Lando Norris by half a tenth but also aborted a better lap later on.
Even factoring in the peculiar 39-metre extension the track has officially had with resurfacing work widening it in places, the pace was a massive 3.7s slower than in 2021, when Verstappen topped FP1 with a 1m23.723s.
Qualifying takes place at 8pm local time (6pm UK).