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Verstappen quickest in difficult opening session


Ahead of today's sole practice session the air temperature is 36 degrees C, while the track temperature is 42 degrees.

Other than being hot it is windy, very, very windy, with sand being blown on to the track despite the best efforts of the officials.

As is always the case with these night/evening races, this session bears no relation to this afternoon's qualifying session, the Sprint or the race, however, it will take place in conditions similar to tomorrow's shootout.

For a number of drivers (six) this is their first experience of Lusail, while for Liam Lawson it is his first Sprint weekend.

There are minimal upgrades this weekend with only three teams having made the effort.

Alpine has a new Floor Body, Rear Corner and Cooling Louvres, while Alfa Romeo has a new Beam Wing and AlphaTauri a new Floor Edge.

The lights go green and Magnussen leads thee way, followed by Hulkenberg, Bottas, Zhou, Lawson and Sainz.

As more cars take to the track the air is thick with sand dust.

Sainz warns of a pit limiter issue. After being told to slow down and not push, he is subsequently given the all-clear.

"Oh my God, it's so slippery," reports Verstappen.

"My Dad would do quick in these conditions," jokes Sainz.

Of the first wave, Verstappen goes quickest (34.913), 2.224s up on Magnussen, who is ahead of Sainz, Perez and Norris.

A 34.898 sees Russell go quickest, only to be topped by Alonso's 34.724.

"I can't see anything," says Verstappen, "I don't know why but the sun makes you not see anything."

Russell retakes the top spot with a 32.955 as Sainz goes third, ahead of Norris, Verstappen and Bottas.

A 33.665 sees Hamilton go second.

Blinded by the light, Verstappen runs wide as Gasly goes second with a 33.116.

Ten minutes in and no sign of the Williams pair as Russell consolidates his top spot with a 31.613.

"I hit one of the polystyrene boards with the front wing," admits Norris. "It's OK, we saw it," he is told.

A 31.279 sees Hamilton leapfrog his Mercedes teammate, as Verstappen goes wide once again.

Piastri goes fourth, ahead of Leclerc, Stroll and Tsunoda, but all are demoted when Alonso crosses the line at 30.626.

The times continue to change as the drivers get used to the conditions, Russell now quickest, ahead of Alonso, Hamilton and Verstappen.

On his first flying lap Albon goes 17th.

Verstappen goes top with a 29.883.

"My seat's extremely hot," reports Albon. Though not as hot as that of his teammate.

Alonso retakes the top spot with a 29.439 but is immediately beaten by Verstappen's 29.316 and then Leclerc's 29.082.

After 25 minutes the top 8 times have all been posted on the hard tyre.

At which point Alonso posts a 28.624.

"That didn't sound good, what happened to the engine," enquires Leclerc after pitting. "We'll come back to you," he is ominously told.

"I'm trying to push at the moment, but I just lose the rear," admits Lawson.

Leclerc switches to the mediums after his issue traced to the engine software.

Sainz also makes the switch and subsequently goes second with a 29.066.

As the temperatures continue to drop Piastri goes quickest with a 28.380.

"I have a load of understeer in right-handers," complains Verstappen.

Norris makes it a McLaren 1-2 when he stops the clock at 28.441.

"Has the wind picked up," asks Leclerc after running wide. Nonetheless he subsequently posts a 28.104 on his mediums.

Albon makes the switch to softs but runs wide twice and as a result opts to abort his lap.

"I turn in and it's like the rears are not connected to the car at all," he reports. "It's like zero accommodation."

On-board footage with Russell shows just how much drivers are struggling for grip.

Of course, the situation isn't helped by the fact that when you run wide you go off into the run-offs which are also covered in sand.

Hulkenberg (softs) goes second with a 28.171, but is demoted when Alonso (mediums) responds with a 27.919.

Hamilton (mediums) goes quickest in S1, finally crossing the line at 28.679 to go seventh.

As Perez aborts his lap after running wide in S1, Verstappen encounters traffic.

On the softs, Verstappen goes quickest, 0.491s up on the medium shod Alonso. Perez (softs) goes third with a 28.016.

Russell reports that the wind is picking up.

Piastri is warned that his car is hot and that he may therefore have to abort his practice launch at the end of the session.

At the death, Tsunoda goes fifth with a 28.027.

Sargeant improves to tenth (28.550), just ahead of his Williams teammate.

"We need to check the floor," says the American after running wide.

The session ends. Verstappen is quickest, ahead of Sainz, Leclerc, Alonso, Perez, Tsunoda, Hulkenberg, Russell, Piastri and Norris.

Sargeant is eleventh, ahead of Albon, Hamilton, Stroll, Ocon, Gasly, Bottas, Zhou, Lawson and Magnussen.

An interesting session, and one that suggests qualifying should be fun, as should tomorrow morning's shootout.

Check out our Friday gallery from Lusail here.


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