Aus GP FP1: The Melbourne weekend begins with a Red Bull P1, and an unusual red flag situation
Max Verstappen topped the timesheets in FP1 for the Australian Grand Prix, a session in which several drivers complained about the Albert Park circuit’s bumps.
On a cloudy day in Melbourne, it was Carlos Sainz who kicked off proceedings for the Australian Grand Prix with the Spaniard the first man out, and the first to put in a lap time.
Getting the timesheet rolling with a 1:25.3 on the hard Pirellis, he took two seconds off his time on his second lap but it wasn’t enough to keep Sergio Perez on the medium tyres at bay with Lewis Hamilton slotting into second place in the early running with Oscar Piastri P3.
Unlike in most practice sessions all 20 drivers did at least one lap within the first five minutes with Max Verstappen, on the soft tyres, up into second place behind his team-mate. This weekend Pirelli’s softs are the C4, one step harder than the softs that were brought to Melbourne last year.
Rookie driver Logan Sargeant wasn’t having the best of times, reporting that it’s so bumpy he “can’t see”. It was the natural bumps of the street circuit that were bothering him, not porpoising. Hamilton also reported “I’ve got bouncing.”
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Back at the front Verstappen went quickest with a 1:19.3, two-tenths up on Perez, with Hamilton third. On the other end of the timesheet was Lando Norris, the Briton back into the McLaren garage after just one lap with the team working on his car which this weekend features a new engine cover as well as an updated diffuser.
Kevin Magnussen had the day’s first off as he locked the rears and went off into the gravel. Crawling his way out, he returned to the pits with a set of rather dirty tyres, while a big snap of oversteer through Turn 9 had Hamilton frantically correcting his steering.
Despite upping his pace to a 1:18.7, Verstappen wasn’t happy with his RB19 and complained to Red Bull: “We are dragging the rear brakes too much, that’s the problem.”
Midway through the session Norris was finally back on track on a set of mediums and went 16th on his first timed lap. He, however, was out of sync with the rest of the field with his rivals swapping to the soft tyres.
That saw the Ferraris come into play with Charles Leclerc up to third, but 0.588s down on Verstappen while Sainz was fourth ahead of Lance Stroll, all of them tripping over each other in the traffic. “Traffic jam!” said Stroll.
Yuki Tsunoda had a near miss with the Turn 1 wall as he went sliding off the track and bounced, getting proper air, through the gravel. That was his session over. The other AlphaTauri of Nyck de Vries was also in trouble as he travelled on the racing line and got in Hamilton’s way. Perez had an off, Magnussen had another and Fernando Alonso improved to P3 to sit 0.024s behind the second Red Bull.
The red flags were out with 23 minutes on the clock due to a problem with the track’s GPS which had led to the massive traffic issues. The session resumed with 14 minutes on the clock but without Leclerc or Sainz as Ferrari worked on the two SF-23s.
Norris, putting in his soft tyre while others focused on race pace, popped up into P6 while Verstappen blotted his copybook as he went spinning at Turn 4. Hamilton put in a late lap to take second. There was late drama for Sargeant whose car “shut off” leaving him sitting on the side of the track at Turn 11. That brought out the red flags and the end of the session.
The FP1 session ended with Verstappen, Hamilton, Perez and Alonso as the top four with Leclerc and Sainz next in line ahead of Norris, Pierre Gasly and George Russell. Stroll completed the top ten with local lad Piastri P12.
1 Max VERSTAPPEN Red Bull Racing 1:18.790
2 Lewis HAMILTON Mercedes +0.433
3 Sergio PEREZ Red Bull Racing +0.503
4 Fernando ALONSO Aston Martin +0.527
5 Charles LECLERC Ferrari +0.588
6 Carlos SAINZ Ferrari +0.715
7 Lando NORRIS McLaren +0.746
8 Pierre GASLY Alpine +0.856
9 George RUSSELL Mercedes +0.909
10 Lance STROLL Aston Martin +0.976
11 Alexander ALBON Williams +0.976
12 Oscar PIASTRI McLaren +0.987
13 Nico HULKENBERG Haas F1 Team +1.016
14 Nyck DE VRIES AlphaTauri +1.143
15 Logan SARGEANT Williams +1.284
16 Esteban OCON Alpine +1.385
17 Yuki TSUNODA AlphaTauri +1.609
18 Valtteri BOTTAS Alfa Romeo +1.629
19 Guanyu ZHOU Alfa Romeo +1.779
20 Kevin MAGNUSSEN Haas F1 Team +2.357