The first practice session at the 2022 United States Grand Prix saw the Circuit of the Americas being used as a warm-up session, before the afternoon session was dedicated to testing Pirelli 2023 compounds, many eyes were drawn to the four rookies making their Formula 1 debuts instead.
The racing careers of Robert Shwartzman, Alex Palou, Theo Pourchaire, and Logan Sargeant have been substantially different, but in FP1 in Austin they were all equal as Formula 1 debutants hoping to impress on motorsport’s biggest stage.
But who impressed in their maiden Grand Prix outings, and who needed to refine some rough edges?
Robert Shwartzman – Ferrari – 16th
Replaced Charles Leclerc, gap +2.094s
Only the third Israeli to take part in a Formula 1 session, Shwartzman had plenty of eyes on him, and with the quickest car at his disposal, the 2019 Formula 3 champion could go out and really prove himself.
However, an uncomfortable seat prevented him from getting valuable track time in the session’s early stages, forcing him to watch on the sidelines as his mechanics got to work.
When he did go out and set a push lap on the soft compound, Shwartzman was wrestling the car through the corners, setting a time of 1:42.363 four seconds back on Max Verstappen, who set the early pace.
But Shwartzman did get to grips with the Ferrari and gradually moved into the 1:39s, jumping in front of fellow debutant Alex Palou into 16th. But, to his frustration, he had been improving on his final run but came across Verstappen at the last corner and could not improve after being blocked.
“My first free practice in the F1-75 felt amazing today,” said Shwartzman after the session. “We completed everything we had planned for the session, and the team was satisfied with the work we did.
“The track was challenging, bumpy and windy, which took some getting used to.
“As a driver, you always want to push more, and you want to go for the performance, but my goal today was to improve progressively without taking any risks while driving a completely new car. I am happy to have achieved that.”
Alex Palou – McLaren – 17th
Replaced Daniel Ricciardo, gap +2.055s
Palou spent the opening quarter of the session on the medium compound, setting a time of 1:47.127 over eight seconds down on the leaders before the session was red-flagged following Antonio Giovinazzi‘s spin into the barrier.
Once the session restarted, Palou got down to work on the medium compound of tyre, with his first hot lap being a 1:40.911 over three seconds down on Verstappen’s best time set on the softs before improving to a 1:40.541 later in the session.
Palou was enjoying himself out on track calling the car insane on the team radio but was told to watch out for rear locking. The Catalan switched to the mediums for the final 15 minutes of the session after posting a 1:39.911.
“I’m super happy,” said an excited Palou. “The session went really well. You always think that you’re ready, but you never know when you come here.
“Obviously, there’s a bit of pressure of having a car that’s not yours that has to go out on the track again a short time later, along with all the data we had to collect for the team.
“I think the Driver Development Programme work that we did before coming here was awesome because it got me ready for today, and I think I did everything I could in an hour.”
Theo Pourchaire – Alfa Romeo – 18th
Replaced Valtteri Bottas, gap +1.899s
The youngest of the quartet, Pourchaire, couldn’t retain his excitement at being able to drive a Formula 1 car in an official session, winking to the camera as the green light went out at the end of the pits.
Not that Pourchaire would be able to go out right away, as Alfa Romeo elected to hold him in the pits for the first half an hour of the session before being sent on the mediums banking a time of 1:42.219 on his first push lap, which he later improved upon with a 1:41.478 as the track quickened.
Pourchaire did manage to improve further, breaking into the 1:40s with a 1:40.175 as he thanked the team for giving him an opportunity.
“It’s been an amazing experience, the best hour of my life, and I am so grateful to the team for the trust they’ve put in me,” Pourchaire said.
“Discovering this track was incredible, and the car is just something special: I have been through lots of emotions, and I’m just so happy right now.”
“My main target was to help the team, and I was pleased to be able to do so: we had a good session, did quite a few laps, and everyone was satisfied, so it’s a good start to the weekend.
“I tried to push a bit at the end, but my focus was mostly on understanding everything about the car, the steering wheel and so on.”
Logan Sargeant – Williams – 19th
Replaced Nicholas Latifi. gap +1.903s
The home hero, who came into the weekend with a fresh helmet, started his programme on the hard tyre and was on a push lap when the red flag was thrown out after Giovinazzi spun into the barrier at Turn six.
When the session did restart, Sargeant switched to the hards and struggled with a lack of rear grip before moving to the softs setting a 1:41.132 that was good enough for 15th at just past half distance.
Sargeant then went much quicker on his next run, breaking into the 1:40s with a 1:40.325, completing 23 laps, the most of the four rookies.
“The main goal coming into today was to learn as much as possible,” Sargeant commented, “and I feel like I did pick up on a lot.
“It was very different to what I honestly expected, but in a good way. The way that the car reacts compared to what I’m used to in Formula 2 is massively different.
“A lot of potential to still pick up on and improve on, but I think it was a good start and happy with how it went.”
No doubt Sargeant will be the happiest of the four drivers as on Saturday, Williams team boss Jost Capito confirmed that the American would be their second driver for the 2023 F1 season, should be gain the required number of super licence points.