Max Verstappen showed no signs of slowing down in FP1 at the 2023 Qatar Grand Prix, as he prepared to secure the drivers’ championship by topping the only practice session of the weekend.
Teams only have a few hours to decide on setups before going into qualifying, but Verstappen looks like he’s got nothing to worry about while remaining championship challenger Sergio Perez could only manage fifth, six-tenths back
Several drivers were blown off the Losail International Circuit thanks to the high winds, and not helped by the ultra-low grip resurfaced track, but Verstappen made no mistakes to lead Carlos Sainz by over three-tenths.
Sainz was on the radio early complaining of an issue on his Ferrari but it turned out just to be a sensor problem, and the team managed a late surge to push Fernando Alonso off the podium, the Spaniard running wide on his final lap.
Charles Leclerc was third, 0.15 seconds behind his teammate, while Yuki Tsunoda and Nico Hulkenberg both impressed with top-ten finishes.
McLaren and Mercedes are either in trouble or (more likely) holding performance back for the four meaningful sessions this sprint weekend, with neither setting a competitive time on the soft tyres.
George Russell was eighth and Lando Norris led the McLarens rounding out the top 10, separated by just half a tenth,
Desert serves difficult conditions
Verstappen was on the radio early on complaining about the sun and sand, and this isn’t the last time drivers will face difficult conditions this weekend.
Saturday’s sprint shootout will start even earlier than FP1, so sunset could be at its worst as the session reaches its climax with the west-facing turns 6, 10 and 15 are particularly affected.
One thing that won’t be such a problem tomorrow or Sunday is the wind, above 35 km/h at points in the session, blasting in from the dunes over the Losail International Circuit.
That in turn dragged even more sand onto the track, with Carlos Sainz Jr commenting ‘my dad would enjoy this’ – referencing the rally legend Sainz Sr. Drivers struggled with low grip all session, with Alex Albon twice going off at turn four of aborted flying laps.
And with no support series racing in Qatar over the weekend, things won’t have improved much come qualifying later on Friday. The track looks barely rubbered in and the high winds are set to continue into the evening, so more sand will be deposited onto the circuit before Q1 gets underway.