Qatar Grand Prix 2021
As the first ever Qatar Grand Prix weekend got under way, it was Red Bull’s Max Verstappen who hit the ground running at the Losail International Circuit, going fastest in Free Practice 1, ahead of the AlphaTauri of Pierre Gasly, and the leading Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas.
Beneath a hot, hazy sky, the drivers emerged blinking from the garages for their first ever laps in an F1 car of the fast and flowing 5.38km Losail track – with the stewards taking a laissez faire approach to track limits in FP1 as the drivers evaluated the extent they could push in the corners, leading to a number of off-track excursions.
Despite the stewards still deliberating over his defensive move on Lewis Hamilton from a week ago in Brazil, Verstappen put that all to the back of his mind to clock the fastest ever lap at Losail, with a 1m 23.723s.
That was a full 0.437s quicker than the impressive Gasly, and 0.471s faster than Bottas could manage for Mercedes. The Finn was a further three-tenths up on team mate Hamilton, who complained of feeling underpowered throughout the session, while Mercedes reported to the seven-time champ that he “may have a car issue” 10 minutes from the end, although he was able to pit and then re-join the session.
It was unclear, too, which of the power units from his pool Hamilton was running.
Behind the top four, Yuki Tsunoda confirmed AlphaTauri’s pace by going P5, surviving an off-track excursion at the final Turn 16 corner a few minutes from the end to finish faster than the Ferrari pairing of Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc in P6 and P7.
The second Red Bull of Sergio Perez – one of only two drivers, along with Haas’ Nikita Mazepin, to have raced here before – was P8, ahead of the Alpine of Esteban Ocon.
McLaren had high hopes that the Qatar track would suit their MCL35M’s strengths in high-speed corners. Whether it will or not wasn’t entirely clear after FP1, as Lando Norris took P10, one spot up on team mate Daniel Ricciardo, Norris overcoming a brief power loss mid-session as Ricciardo said the track was "fun" over team radio.
Sebastian Vettel was the leading Aston Martin in P12, ahead of an impressive showing from Nicholas Latifi to go 13th for Williams. Out-going Alfa Romeo driver Antonio Giovinazzi led team mate Kimi Raikkonen in P14 and P15, with the second Williams of George Russell 16th.
Fernando Alonso played himself in slowly, going only 17th fastest, ahead of the Haas of Mick Schumacher, who lived to fight another day after running off track at Turn 7 two minutes from the end in his VF-21.
He finished ahead of Lance Stroll – who was limited to just 11 laps after appearing to suffer brake-by-wire issues, with Mazepin rounding out the order, 0.377s off the pace.
So there you have it, the first ever practice session at the Losail International Circuit. But with FP2 set to take place in more representative cooler conditions, that’s when we’ll really get to see which team’s in the driving seat ahead of qualifying for the Qatar Grand Prix.
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