Qatar Grand Prix: Sand, wind and heat wreak havoc as Max Verstappen sets the pace in FP1

Michelle Foster
Reigning World Champion Max Verstappen pulls into the Red Bull pits in Singapore.

Max Verstappen can wrap up the World title in Qatar.

Soon-to-be 2023 World Champion Max Verstappen set the pace in a tricky practice hour for the Qatar Grand Prix, a session made difficult by the gusty wind and sand.

The Red Bull driver bounced back from an unspectacular, by his high standards, session to finish fastest of all with a late lap on the soft tyres. And he did it emphatically.

His 1:27.428 put the reigning World Champion 0.334s up on Carlos Sainz with Charles Leclerc third.

A blustery session

On a weekend that could, and should, decide the destiny of the World Championship title, wind, sand, and heat made for difficult conditions for the drivers as they took to the Losail circuit for the only practice hour for the Qatar Grand Prix weekend.

With just 60 minutes to set up their cars before they go under parc ferme conditions, Kevin Magnussen led out the field for a busy start to the day. With a rooster tails of sand kicked up by his Ferrari, Carlos Sainz was informed his early session woes were nothing more than a sensor issue.

Sainz reported to Ferrari that his “dad would do quick in these conditions” such was the sand while Max Verstappen complained with a laugh that it was “so slippery” and that he “can’t see anything”.

10 minutes into the session, George Russell was at the top of the timesheet with a 1:31.6, Lando Norris had taken out a polystyrene board, and neither Williams had completed a single lap.

Five minutes later Verstappen grabbed his traditional P1 slot with a 1:229.9, but he was only a tenth up on Russell with Fernando Alonso P3.

As the drivers continued their hour of learning and the wind and sand continued to play havoc, Esteban Ocon and Alex Albon joined a growing list of drivers flying off the track as they misjudged the limits. recommends

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As the drivers cleaned the track, Alonso lowered the benchmark to a 1:28.6 with Leclerc second. However, the Ferrari driver reported that something didn’t “sound good” with the engine as he pulled into the pits after his second run. Ferrari were spotted plugging in a laptop, the issue seemingly a software one.

Heading into the final 20 minutes the two Williams drivers were down in the bottom five with Sargeant telling Williams he’d never experienced anything like this when it comes to track conditions. He wasn’t the only one struggling with Verstappen oversteering off the track and Leclerc also using the run-off area.

McLaren’s Oscar Piastri made a charge up from 14th to 12th and then up to P1 with a 1:28.3. His surge coincided with a drop in track temperature, that down from 45’C to 39. He was overhauled by Leclerc, the Ferrari driver 0.276s faster.

Williams’ Albon was the first to swap to the soft tyres only to ruin his hot lap with an off, the Thai British driver suffering the same fate on his next lap and reporting that it felt as if the rear of his car was “connected at all” to Williams.

More drivers swapped to the soft tyres in the final 10 minutes, although not every one of the 20, with Verstappen finishing FP1 quickest of all with a 1:27.428. That put him 0.334s up on Sainz with Leclerc P3.


1 Max VERSTAPPEN Red Bull Racing 1:27.428
2 Carlos SAINZ Ferrari +0.334
3 Charles LECLERC Ferrari +0.481
4 Fernando ALONSO Aston Martin +0.491
5 Sergio PEREZ Red Bull Racing +0.588
6 Yuki TSUNODA AlphaTauri +0.599
7 Nico HULKENBERG Haas F1 Team +0.743
8 George RUSSELL Mercedes +0.908
9 Oscar PIASTRI McLaren +0.952
10 Lando NORRIS McLaren +1.013
11 Logan SARGEANT Williams +1.122
12 Alexander ALBON Williams +1.162
13 Lewis HAMILTON Mercedes +1.251
14 Lance STROLL Aston Martin +1.262
15 Esteban OCON Alpine +1.304
16 Pierre GASLY Alpine +1.393
17 Valtteri BOTTAS Alfa Romeo +1.613
18 Guanyu ZHOU Alfa Romeo +1.678
19 Liam LAWSON AlphaTauri +1.810
20 Kevin MAGNUSSEN Haas F1 Team +2.074

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