FP1: Carlos Sainz goes fastest as five drivers swap seats in Austin

Henry Valantine
Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz. Austin October 2022.

Carlos Sainz topped FP1 in Austin on Friday ahead of Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton, with several new faces on track for the session.

The Ferrari driver led from his Red Bull and Mercedes counterparts, with Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll and Sergio Perez rounding out the top five.

The session saw five driver swaps take place as four rookie drivers got a taste of an FP1 session. While three-season veteran Antonio Giovinazzi filling in at Haas did not quite fit the same bill, he also took to the track on Friday driving Kevin Magnussen’s car.

Nevertheless, it was a chance for 2021 IndyCar champion Alex Palou to take the wheel at McLaren, Sauber junior and Formula 2 runner-up Théo Pourchaire ran for Alfa Romeo, Ferrari junior Robert Shwartzman took part for the Scuderia, and America’s Logan Sargeant – tipped for a possible race drive at Williams in 2023 – had a chance to drive the FW44 in FP1.

With that, the Circuit of The Americas was quickly a hive of activity, but Giovinazzi’s return to the track was a brief one to begin with. He lost grip at the high-speed Turn 6 and slid backwards helplessly into the barrier.

The red flag was quickly waved, but the former Alfa Romeo driver was able to work his way out of trouble and get moving again. He managed to get back to the pits, though he caused an unwanted headache at Haas by overheating his clutch in the process – causing a likely gearbox change for Magnussen this weekend.

The new generation of cars appeared more twitchy than their predecessors over the bumpy COTA surface in general, as evidenced by Fernando Alonso having to wrestle his Alpine through the first sector and getting out of shape while doing so, with Sainz’s Ferrari shooting up a piece of bodywork as he bounced his way into Turn 3.

At the front though, Verstappen and Red Bull looked quick from the start in the first half of FP1, the two-time World Champion almost nine tenths clear of his team-mate, with only Sebastian Vettel and Sainz able to keep within a second of the Red Bull’s pace.

Rookie-wise, having completed two private tests with McLaren alongside Pato O’Ward, Palou was enjoying life in FP1 – coming on team radio to say “this car is insane”, and keeping himself within three tenths of Lando Norris in the first part of the session on medium tyres.

As early run plans made way for soft-tyre runs later in the session, Verstappen began to get reeled in.

Lewis Hamilton’s 1:37.645 was 0.183s behind the Red Bull driver’s quickest effort in his newly-upgraded W13, but it was a surprise source in Lance Stroll who toppled the quickest lap, going 0.002s quicker than the World Champion.

With Sebastian Vettel also in and around the front-runners for much of the session, early signs appear encouraging for Aston Martin as their recent surge has brought them to within seven points of Alfa Romeo in sixth in the Constructors’ Championship.

Stroll’s time at the top was short-lived however, with Sainz then taking a six-tenth chunk out of his quickest time to make himself the first driver into the 1:36s and finish the session on top.

Verstappen put himself two tenths behind, with Hamilton third quickest. The five stand-in drivers were the five slowest in the session, with Ferrari’s Shwartzman left disappointed at being blocked on his final soft tyre run at the newly-named Turn 20, now known as ‘The Andretti’.

A 90-minute FP2 session is set to follow.

FP1 classification

1 Carlos SAINZ Ferrari 1:36.857
2 Max VERSTAPPEN Red Bull Racing +0.224
3 Lewis HAMILTON Mercedes +0.475
4 Lance STROLL Aston Martin +0.603
5 Sergio PEREZ Red Bull Racing +0.658
6 Fernando ALONSO Alpine +0.856
7 George RUSSELL Mercedes +0.945
8 Pierre GASLY AlphaTauri +0.953
9 Lando NORRIS McLaren +0.999
10 Sebastian VETTEL Aston Martin +1.184
11 Esteban OCON Alpine +1.245
12 ZHOU Guanyu Alfa Romeo +1.419
13 Alexander ALBON Williams +1.565
14 Yuki TSUNODA AlphaTauri +2.041
15 Mick SCHUMACHER Haas F1 Team +2.065
16 Robert SHWARTZMAN Ferrari +2.094
17 Alex PALOU McLaren +3.054
18 Theo POURCHAIRE Alfa Romeo +3.318
19 Logan SARGEANT Williams +3.468
20 Antonio GIOVINAZZI Haas F1 Team +6.206

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