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F1: Qatar Grand Prix FP1 results

After a year off, Qatar is back on the F1 calendar. As the fourth sprint weekend of the season, how would the teams and drivers fare in the sole practice session?

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In terms of outright race preparation, FP1 ahead of the Qatar Grand Prix might have been the most critical practice session of the 2023 F1 season.

Qatar Grand Prix F1 FP1
Fernando Alonso took a surprise, and popular, podium when F1 last raced in Qatar, in 2021. (Image Credit: Lars Baron via Getty Images)

Formula 1 returns to Lusail, near the Qatari capital of Doha after a season away, where a renovated Losail International Circuit is hosting the fourth of six designated sprint weekends on the 2023 F1 calendar. This meant just one hour of free practice, at a track that has only hosted The Circus once before.

That weekend in 2021 came in the final year of the previous era of F1 regulations, further limiting the data the teams have to draw upon here.

In that race, Fernando Alonso took a surprise podium for Alpine. Will we see something similar this time around?

Following Oscar Piastri’s maiden podium last time out in Japan, the only driver from the five teams dominating the constructors’ championship yet to secure a grand prix rostrum this year is Alonso’s teammate at Aston Martin, Lance Stroll.

Even Alpine, who have lost touch with the top half of the table in sixth, have seen both their drivers secure P3 finishes.

In the headlines

It was, however, the other Stroll who made the news this week, fueling the story dominating the headlines in the run-up to the Qatar Grand Prix: the FIA approving Andretti’s bid to become the newest – and 11th – member of the Formula 1 paddock.

The decision now moves on to FOM to decide whether it will grant Andretti admittance into the sport. The teams have been quick to re-voice their opposition to the expansion of the F1 grid.

It was Lawrence Stroll, who is the Executive Chairman of Aston Martin, who offered the first and most prominent reiteration of the consensus view. His statement coming somewhat ironically at the launch of the Aston Martin Valkyrie Hypercar, which the manufacturer hopes to race in WEC – which includes the 24 Hours of Le Mans – and IMSA from 2025.

There is also the small matter of crowning a ‘new’ world champion. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen needs a mere three points to take his third consecutive title.

Meanwhile, the chatter surrounding Logan Sargeant’s F1 career continued. Will the 22-year-old successfully fend off calls for him to be replaced at Williams for 2024?

Williams want him in the car, but will he be able to do enough over the final few rounds to retain his drive? His position is the only unconfirmed seat for next season.

Although he won’t be racing in 2024, fellow rookie, Liam Lawson, does retain his seat at AlphaTauri – at least for the time being – with Daniel Ricciardo still sidelined through injury.

But what shook down during the all-important free practice season in Lusail?

The opening salvo

The difficulties facing the F1 paddock this weekend are aplenty. To make matters even worse for the teams, there were reports of strong winds ahead of FP1. How, and would, that factor into the running?

Coupled with the sand and dust, gusty winds made for treacherous conditions, similar to the spray experienced in damp weather.

Unsurprisingly, the pack quickly filed onto the circuit at the start of the session. It wasn’t long before almost three-time champion Max Verstappen came onto the radio to comment on how slippery the track surface was.

No bother, as he followed that up by dropping the gauntlet down to 1:34.913, over two seconds clear of Kevin Magnussen’s time that previously topped the timing sheet.

Verstappen wasn’t the only one to have something to say. Carlos Sainz made light of the sand, saying to his team: “My Dad would go quick in these conditions!”

Ultimate lap time, however, would not be the principal focus for the early part of the session, with the drivers familiarising themselves with the track.

With 10 minutes gone, only the Williams duo of Logan Sargeant and Alex Albon remained in the garage – their calling card of a sprint weekend.

All the while, Lando Norris set about destroying the place by finding an innocent polystyrene board to dismantle.

With a third of the session gone, the field had dipped below the 1:30:00 mark – Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc top following a 1:29.082.

The Monagasque’s time wouldn’t be bettered for a few minutes when Fernando Alonso went four and a half tenths clear. Leclerc, meanwhile, had come back into the garage having heard a concerning noise from the engine – “We’ll come back to you”, his team confirmed.

Final 30

With half an hour to go, there was no clear order of things. The top five teams in the constructors championship each had a car in the top five, with both Alpines following in P6 and P7 respectively.

Further down the order, both Alfa Romeo and Williams drivers occupied space in the bottom six, along with Haas’s Kevin Magnussen and Liam Lawson.

Carlos Sainz soon became the fastest medium tyre compound runner, leapfrogging his teammate to go second. The rest of the top 12 had set their best times on the hard tyres to that point.

With 20 minutes to go, McLaren’s Oscar Piastri usurped Alonso at the sharp end of the timing board, underscoring the pace the Woking-based outfit are anticipating this weekend.

As expected, the softest compound on offer would appear towards the end of the session. Alex Albon was the first driver to put the red-walled tyres with less than a quarter of an hour to run. However, that experience would not be without its issues.

Inside the final 10 minutes, his teammate, Logan Sargeant, popped up into the top six, as the leading soft compound runner. His time clocked in at +1.097 seconds slower than Leclerc, who sat atop the timing sheet.

The expectation was that the teams vying for pole would opt to not use the fastest tyre. However, Red Bull decided to buck that trend. In doing so, Verstappen went almost half a second clear of Alonso, who had since bettered Leclerc.

Soon most of the major runners would be on softs, but with conditions remaining tricky, many struggled to get on top of their cars.

Verstappen would stay at the top of the session standings, clear of the Ferrari pair in P2 and P3.

Full classified results

Fernando Alonso was able to fend off Sergio Perez to stay in fourth in a jumbled-up field. Yuki Tsunoda had a strong showing to finish just behind, with a spatter of cars deciding not to go onto the soft tyres in the end. Likewise with Nico Hulkenberg in P7.

Outside the top 10, the Williams duo ended up P11 and P12, before a run of medium compound runners.

Ultimately, the session was one that it is difficult to draw conclusions from. Alpine unexpectedly found themselves towards the back of the pack, and there is surely more to come from McLaren in P9 and P10.

With a mixed-up order and a track that will be significantly quicker come qualifying, will we see the conventional hierarchy over the rest of the weekend?

Featured Image Credit: @redbullracing on X

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