George Russell went fastest in FP1 for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, with Aston Martin reserve Felipe Drugovich second quickest in the session.
It was an impressive fastest lap from last year’s Formula 2 champion, who was one of 10 rookie drivers to be placed behind the wheel in the first practice session around Yas Marina on Friday.
Daniel Ricciardo ended the session third fastest for AlphaTauri, ahead of Valtteri Bottas and Lance Stroll, who rounded out the top five.
Rookies take the wheel in FP1 in Abu Dhabi
It was a much-changed field in FP1 in Abu Dhabi, with 10 drivers having swapped out of their seats for the mandatory FP1 rookie running this season.
Every full-time non-rookie driver has to give up their seat at least once in the season, and everyone who was left to fill the requirement took the final opportunity to do so in Abu Dhabi.
So both Red Bull drivers swapped out of their cars, with juniors Isack Hadjar and Jake Dennis replacing Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez, Frederik Vesti was in for Lewis Hamilton, while Patricio O’Ward was in for Lando Norris at McLaren.
Elsewhere, Robert Shwartzman took Charles Leclerc’s place at Ferrari, Aston Martin reserve Felipe Drugovich was in for Fernando Alonso, Jack Doohan subbed in for Esteban Ocon, Théo Pourchaire took Zhou Guanyu’s place, Ferrari junior Oliver Bearman took in his second run at Haas for Kevin Magnussen, and Williams junior Zak O’Sullivan replaced Alex Albon for the session.
With the administration in place, it was time for track action at Yas Marina for the much-changed field, with the rookie drivers having circulated relatively untroubled until Doohan took evasive action against Logan Sargeant darting towards the pit lane at Turn 16.
That huge jink to the right from Doohan clearly shook the Alpine junior, saying over radio: “I almost had the biggest accident of my life” afterwards, which was duly referred to the stewards.
“Doohan was too late, I’m sorry” was Sargeant’s response, all the while George Russell topped the timesheets by some distance for Mercedes in a session filled with rookie drivers.
A 1:26.072 at the halfway stage was almost a full second clear of Sargeant in second place in daylight hours around Yas Marina, with the more representative running to come in FP2 in the fading light.
In terms of rookies getting close to more experienced drivers on track, Drugovich lapped within two tenths of Lance Stroll for Aston Martin at the halfway point of the session, while Bearman was just 0.093s behind Magnussen for Haas on the same tyre compound.
IndyCar star O’Ward, who was confirmed as a McLaren reserve for 2024 on Thursday night, got close to Oscar Piastri’s benchmark, though he was on softs compared to mediums for the full-timer.
Soft tyres began to be bolted on the cars as the session progressed, and the exit of Turn 16, the final corner at Yas Marina, proved to be a tricky prospect as several drivers spun up their rear tyres on the exit and the cars plunged downhill.
Piastri improved to second place behind Russell when he switched to softs, with Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda not far behind – Vesti being the highest-ranked of the rookies in P6 heading into the closing stages.
Former Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas deposed Piastri with a 1:26.453 to go behind Russell himself as the circuit began to improve, with plenty of rubber going down throughout the practice hour.
An impressive lap from Drugovich in the Aston Martin put him next in line behind Russell’s benchmark, before improving further still on a second flying lap – some eight tenths clear of Lance Stroll, albeit with the Canadian’s quickest time on medium tyres.
Stroll did put softs on before the end of the session, but managed a time good enough for fifth, a couple of tenths behind the 2022 Formula 2 champion.
Abu Dhabi Grand Prix 2023: FP1 classification
1 George RUSSELL Mercedes 1:26.072
2 Felipe DRUGOVICH Aston Martin +0.288
3 Daniel RICCIARDO AlphaTauri +0.361
4 Valtteri BOTTAS Alfa Romeo +0.381
5 Lance STROLL Aston Martin +0.559
6 Oscar PIASTRI McLaren +0.593
7 Carlos SAINZ Ferrari +0.604
8 Robert SHWARTZMAN Ferrari +0.631
9 Pierre GASLY Alpine +0.648
10 Yuki TSUNODA AlphaTauri +0.653
11 Logan SARGEANT Williams +0.670
12 Frederik VESTI Mercedes +0.743
13 Jack DOOHAN Alpine +0.793
14 Theo POURCHAIRE Alfa Romeo +1.021
15 Patricio O’WARD McLaren +1.042
16 Jake DENNIS Red Bull +1.136
17 Isack HADJAR Red Bull +1.172
18 Zak O’SULLIVAN Williams +1.388
19 Kevin MAGNUSSEN Haas +1.390
20 Oliver BEARMAN Haas +1.497