One sporting change in the new generation of Formula 1 regulations from 2022 was a specification that every driver must give up one free practice session per year to a ‘rookie’ who has completed fewer than three grand prix.
And while that can seem a pretty unimpactful rule, it does actually have practical implications. Logan Sargeant‘s place in F1 for 2023 could’ve come down to the Super Licence point he earned for driving 100km in FP2 at the 2022 Sao Paulo GP.
And it was interesting to compare the various successes and failures over the season too – newly crowned IndyCar champion Alex Palou really impressed when given his chance by McLaren.
For 2023, no driver appeared before the summer break and the Abu Dhabi GP saw rookies make up half the FP1 field, but there have been few critics of the regulation change.
There is a loophole, that teams fielding a rookie as a full-time driver also don’t need to field another one as a practice substitute so AlphaTauri, McLaren and Williams all only had to run one this season.
However, despite AlphaTauri effectively running two rookies in 2023 with Nyck de Vries and Liam Lawson, they both ran in the same car so Yuki Tsunoda still had to give up his practice at the Mexico City GP.
So how did the 11 stand-in free practice rookies in 2023 perform?
Felipe Drugovich – Aston Martin
The reigning F2 champion replaced Lance Stroll for FP1 at the Italian GP – which actually turned out to be a pretty unhelpful deal for the Canadian when his Aston Martin packed up just a few minutes into Friday afternoon.
The team’s run plan focussed on the medium tyres and Drugovich was alright, but just alright. Predictably he was slower than Fernando Alonso and probably didn’t show much that’ll turn the heads of any other teams, but equally didn’t make any major errors.
That script flipped in Abu Dhabi though, when the Brazilian took Alonso‘s seat. He finished the session a stunning second ahead of Lance Stroll and heavyweights like Carlos Sainz and Oscar Piastri, less than three-tenths behind FP1 leader George Russell.
Robert Shwartzman – Ferrari
Handed a bit of a raw deal at the 2023 Dutch Grand Prix, the 2018 F3 champion didn’t get chance to set a soft tyre marker thanks to Ferrari‘s run plan.
That being said, Robert Shwartzman finished last of the runners who set a time at three seconds behind pacesetter Max Verstappen.
Despite never racing in F1, Shwartzman is pretty experienced especially for a 23-year-old – he’s done plenty of testing for Ferrari plus two free practice sessions in 2022 and enjoyed a seven-year junior career including two years of F2.
Shwartzman was eight-tenths behind 18th-placed Nico Hulkenberg, who crashed out of the session, and 1.3 seconds away from Charles Leclerc.
But like Drugovich, he turned it around in Abu Dhabi. The Russian-Israeli driver was just 0.027s and one place behind Carlos Sainz, in a very creditable eighth place.
Oliver Bearman – Haas
Exciting Ferrari talent Oliver Bearman made his F1 debut for Haas in FP1 of the Mexico City GP, taking over from Kevin Magnussen.
And he delivered on the hype, standing out from a crowded F2 cohort at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez by beating Fernando Alonso on what probably wasn’t even his maximum lap.
At three-tenths behind Nico Hulkenberg it was certainly a commendable showing, but Bearman‘s first lap on his soft tyres was set to be even better before he made an error in the second sector.
The fantastic potential Bearman‘s shown throughout his junior career was still there for all to see and he followed it up with another competitive showing in Abu Dhabi, finishing dead last on the timesheets but just a tenth behind Magnussen.
Jack Doohan – Alpine
Also appearing in FP1 at the Mexico City GP, Jack Doohan was 0.168 seconds behind Hadjar and finished 18th.
Esteban Ocon had a good session and finished in the top 10, though Doohan later revealed he’d been tasked with testing out elements for 2024, so the Australian wasn’t focusing on headline pace.
But Doohan was freed for a more spectacular showing in Abu Dhabi, and ended up one-and-a-half tenths back from Pierre Gasly. He also displayed lightning-quick reactions to avoid ‘the biggest crash of my life’ with Sargeant, on the eve of his final appearance in F2.
Pato O’Ward – McLaren
The 24-year-old’s inclusion in FP1 at the Yas Marina Circuit meant there was a Mexican involved in every free practice session of the season.
Pato O’Ward was seven-tenths behind then-teammate Daniel Ricciardo in the same session of 2022, but wasn’t far off halving that deficit to Piastri this time around.
Zak O’Sullivan – Williams
Definitely a bright spark for the future, Zak O’Sullivan is the only F3 driver to appear in an F1 free practice session too which says a lot of his maturity at Williams.
It’s not a bad experience to have before stepping up to F2 in 2024, O’Sullivan finished 18th in Abu Dhabi FP1 and was 0.718 seconds behind Sargeant.
Jake Dennis – Red Bull
Jake Dennis is difficult to rank considering he only ran against another rookie in Isack Hadjar for Red Bull in Abu Dhabi. He almost certainly wasn’t in Red Bull‘s plans until Liam Lawson‘s five races for AlphaTauri made the Kiwi ineligible as a free practice rookie, but Dennis still took his chance well.
The Nuneaton native openly admitted on team radio that he wasn’t finding the limit of the car as much as Max Verstappen would have and was less than four-hundredths ahead of Isack Hadjar – but that’s better than being four-hundredths behind.
Isack Hadjar – AlphaTauri & Red Bull
Hadjar gave a good account of himself in Mexico City considering he’s 14th in the F2 championship while all the other rookie runners there were in the top six.
Reportedly a Helmut Marko favourite in the Red Bull junior ranks, Hadjar could’ve done with a boost and he did relatively well at a very difficult track for rookies to jump in and perform.
He was 17th, the second-best F2 driver at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, but six-tenths behind an uncompetitive Alonso and 2.4 seconds behind Ricciardo.
The AT04 was very quick in Mexico City – Ricciardo was top-ten in all three practice sessions – but Hadjar wins points back for his heart-warming team radio as he drove back to the pitlane at the end of FP1.
“BEST DAY OF MY LIFE MATE, ABSOLUTELY INCREDIBLE!”Isack Hadjar’s team radio in FP1 at the 2023 Mexico City GP
He’ll have been disappointed not to build on that in Abu Dhabi though. Sat just behind Dennis in 17th, a more experienced driver likely would’ve pushed a bit more out of the most dominant car in F1 history.
Theo Pourchaire – Alfa Romeo
There’s a few drivers in this list who were hamstrung by conservative run plans, but Theo Pourchaire‘s FP1 session in Mexico City takes the cake.
The F2 championship leader was unable to set a time standing in for Valtteri Bottas, as a brake-by-wire issue plagued the Frenchman every time he headed onto the track.
Pourchaire was beaming when he jumped out of the C43 in Abu Dhabi having finally got a full session under his belt for the season, but was still almost seven-tenths behind Bottas.
Frederik Vesti – Mercedes
Replaced Russell in Mexico City but Mercedes concentrated on long-run pace and Frederik Vesti was last in FP1, nearly a second behind Doohan.
Vesti could’ve done with a more statement performance after leading for much of the F2 season before letting it slip to Pourchaire, and was three-quarters of a session behind Russell in Abu Dhabi.