Verstappen sets the pace in weekend's sole practice session


Ahead of the weekend's sole practice session the air temperature is 27 degrees C, while the track temperature is 22 degrees. It is bright, sunny and really quite beautiful. On days like this who needs street tracks?

With only the one practice session, clearly most teams feel there is little time for testing new components, therefore the likes of Mercedes, Alpine, Aston Martin and Alfa Romeo have nothing, while Red Bull has a new Rear Suspension and Ferrari a new Front Wing and Floor Body.

The first phase of McLaren's much-anticipated upgrade programme sees a new Sidepod Inlet, Halo, Floor Body, Coke/Engine Cover and Cooling Louvres. However, these are only available to Norris this weekend, with Piastri having to wait until next weekend's race at Silverstone.

Haas has a new nose, while AlphaTauri has a new Rear Wing, Beam Wing and Cooling Louvres and Williams new Floor Fences and Front Corner.

The lights go green and Hamilton leads the way, followed by Verstappen, Russell, de Vries and Stroll.

S more drivers head out it is mostly mediums and hards.

Hamilton posts a 9.021, but this is quickly beaten by Russell and then Verstappen (8.094).

Perez posts a 7.595 as, just four minutes into the session, there are already 18 names on the timesheet, the exceptions being the Williams pair.

The Red Bull pair continue to trade fastest laps as Hamilton goes third, ahead of Ocon, Alonso, Stroll and Gasly.

Lots of drivers running wide at Turn 10 - the final corner - as usual, and while this is allowed for now the practice will be penalised for the remainder of the weekend. Turn 1 is also proving to be problematic.

A 6.656 sees Alonso go top, ahead of Hamilton as Zhou goes seventh and Magnussen eighth.

Quickest in the middle sector only, Verstappen improves to 06.598.

Albon heads out for an exploratory lap before heading back to the pits.

17 minutes in and there's a brief lull, Verstappen remains quickest, ahead of Alonso, Hamilton, Perez, Bottas, Ocon, Stroll, Norris, Gasly and Zhou.

"Something is hanging loose from the right-rear endplate," reports Verstappen, "I don't know what it is."

Hamilton goes top with a 6.416 as the Williams pair head out, both are on softs, the first drivers to run the red-banded rubber.

Understandably, Albon (6.794) goes fifth, though Sargeant can only manage 18th.

Hamilton and Verstappen posted their times on hards while Alonso was on mediums.

Quickest in the opening sector, Albon loses pace in the middle of the lap before finally aborting.

"Front tyres are not really gripping up," reports Verstappen, "fighting a lot of understeer."

It's been a quiet start to the session for Ferrari, with Leclerc and Sainz currently 16th and 17th.

Norris - with the upgrades remember - is tenth on 7.368.

"Something stuck on the left sidepod," reports Gasly, the something turning out to be his own rip-off.

"Front tyres are pretty... knackered," says Norris.

With 20 minutes remaining, Piastri is the first driver - other than the Williams pair - to bolt on the softs. The Australian improves to sixth with a 6.809.

Hulkenberg reports a big tailwind (14 km/h) into Turn 3.

"I have no grip now," advises Ocon, "I don't know if it is the tyres or something else, but very poor."

With 14 minutes remaining, Stroll and Gasly make the switch to softs.

The TV camera picks up on a piece of debris on the track at Turn 1.

Running wide in Turn 3, Gasly only improves to 11th on the softs (7.287), while Stroll goes second with a 6.550.

Sargeant improves to eighth with a 7.018, as Russell stops the clock at 6.696.

A big, big wobble for Bottas in Turn 4, as Hamilton is among the last to make the switch to the red-banded rubber.

"Got to check the front right because I keep locking it every time," advises Gasly.

Still on mediums, Verstappen ups the ante with a 6.084.

Magnussen goes eighth, but is demoted when a 6.209 sees Leclerc go second.

Sainz is the first to break the 5 second barrier, the Spaniard crossing the line at 5.983.

Tsunoda is as feisty as ever, the Japanese shouting "it's too late, man," when told to push.

Still to try the softs are the Bulls, Alonso, Ocon and Norris.

"I'm not learning much," admits Alonso, the Spaniard still seventh, 0.673s off the pace.

Hulkenberg goes 12th, while his teammate consolidates ninth.

"I don't know why Magnussen just got upset with me, I got out of the way," sighs de Vries.

Still on his mediums, after three cool down laps, Verstappen bangs in a 5.742.

The session ends. Verstappen is quickest, ahead of Sainz, Leclerc, Hamilton, Perez, Stroll, Magnussen, Alonso, Russell and Zhou.

Albon is eleventh, ahead of Piastri, Hulkenberg, Bottas, Tsunoda, de Vries, Sargeant, Ocon, Gasly and Norris.

Norris, of course was the only McLaren driver running the upgrades, and the reason for his position on the timesheets is understood to be because he ran over a kerb and was worried that he might have damaged the new floor.

When you consider that there's just this one session before we head into qualifying, that was quite interesting, especially as the likes of Verstappen, Perez and Alonso didn't try the softs.

Check out our Friday gallery from the Red Bull Ring here.

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Published: 30/06/2023
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