FP1: Sergio Perez makes a perfect start to new season, Fernando Alonso lives up to hype with P2

Michelle Foster
Sergio Perez in the Red Bull RB19. Bahrain February 2023

Sergio Perez in the Red Bull RB19. Bahrain February 2023

Sergio Perez kicked started his 2023 championship with a fastest lap time in the opening practice session at the Bahrain Grand Prix but it was the driver up in P2 that created the excitement.

Going into the season as the team to beat no one was surprised to a see a Red Bull up in P1, Perez clocking a 1:32.758, but having Fernando Alonso living up to the hype of the pre-season with his P2 bodes well for the year ahead.

The Aston Martin driver was 0.438s down and faster than the other Red Bull of reigning World Champion Max Verstappen. Of course it is just the very first FP1 of the new season.

The 2023 Formula 1 season began with a Williams first, out on track that is, not on the timesheet, but with Alex Albon back into the pits after one lap it was left to Nyck de Vries to complete the first timed lap of the championship – a 1:37.839.

His moment of glory was short-lived, Fernando Alonso taking over at the top with a 1:35.048 to sit 0.021s ahead of Sergio Perez, a positive sign from the most hyped team of the pre-season.

As the drivers continued to rack up the season’s firsts, it was Oscar Piastri who grabbed the ‘off’ as he clipped the kerb at Turn 7 and went flying off the track. No harm done as he continued on his way, “just had a snap” he told McLaren.

As for ‘burning’, not one heard all that often, his fellow rookie Logan Sargeant reported he could “smell something burning” on his first lap out of the pits. But while a note of concern could be detected in his voice, the Williams pit wall seemed completely unfazed with a “copy that”.

Back at the front Perez overhauled Alonso with a 1:34.343 while Max Verstappen slotted into third behind the Aston Martin.

As for the other Aston Martin, Lance Stroll with his healing wrists covered two laps early in the session before returning to the garage. The problem was with the car, not the driver.

Aston Martin told PlanetF1.com’s Thomas Maher that it was an “ignition issue” which could take 20 minutes to resolve.

There were concerns also over at McLaren as, not for the first time this year, mechanics were seen tightening bits of bodywork, this time the mirror. Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu was also not entirely happy, reporting a difference in his brake-by-wire setting compared to testing.

Red Bull were the first of the big teams to swap to the soft Pirelli tyres, Perez lowering the benchmark to a 1:32.759 with Verstappen 0.617s down on his team-mate.

While his team-mate Charles Leclerc sat in the garage, his mechanics swapping his rocking mono-pylon rear wing for a double set-up, Carlos Sainz went spinning – and at speed – having tagged the right-hand kerb at the entry to Turn 9. He bagged first spin.

“I have to box. The right was quite weird there guys. Something changed,” he told Ferrari.

With just under 15 minutes to go, Red Bull sat 1-2 ahead of the McLaren of Lando Norris, also on the soft tyres, and the medium-shod Ferrari of Leclerc.

A smiling Martin Whitmarsh watched on as Alonso, with the soft tyres on his AMR23, shot up to second place, 0.4348s down on Perez as he split the Red Bull team-mates. Stroll moved up to sixth, seven-tenths down on his team-mate.

Norris improved to fourth place on his soft tyre tyre, the McLaren driver ahead of Leclerc, with Kevin Magnussen, Zhou, Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton completing the top ten.

Times

1 Sergio PEREZ Red Bull Racing 1:32.758 21 laps
2 Fernando ALONSO Aston Martin +0.438 22 laps
3 Max VERSTAPPEN Red Bull Racing +0.617 20 laps
4 Lando NORRIS McLaren +1.407 21 laps
5 Charles LECLERC Ferrari +1.499 17 laps
6 Lance STROLL Aston Martin +1.540 17 laps
7 Kevin MAGNUSSEN Haas F1 Team +1.644 20 laps
8 Guanyu ZHOU Alfa Romeo +1.817 18 laps
9 Valtteri BOTTAS Alfa Romeo +1.931 20 laps
10 Lewis HAMILTON Mercedes +2.159 13 laps
11 George RUSSELL Mercedes +2.208 20 laps
12 Oscar PIASTRI McLaren +2.239 24 laps
13 Yuki TSUNODA AlphaTauri +2.257 20 laps
14 Nico HULKENBERG Haas F1 Team +2.285 22 laps
15 Esteban OCON Alpine +2.347 20 laps
16 Nyck DE VRIES AlphaTauri +2.644 25 laps
17 Pierre GASLY Alpine +2.697 22 laps
18 Logan SARGEANT Williams +2.991 24 laps
19 Alexander ALBON Williams +3.260 15 laps
20 Carlos SAINZ Ferrari +3.314 21 laps