Russell heads Drugovich in opening practice


Ahead of today's opening session, the air temperature is 29 degrees C, while the track temperature is 42 degrees... a far cry from last weekend.

The only updates for this final race weekend of 2023 are a new Front Wing Endplate and Front Wing at Alfa Romeo, a new Beam Wing, Rear Wing and Rear Wing Endplate at Aston Martin and Floor Body, Floor Fences and Floor Edge at Alpha Tauri.

While the upgrades might be thin on the ground, due to the fact that this session is somewhat unrepresentative and therefore irrelevant due to its timing, and in order to comply with the regulations, there are no less than ten - 10, count 'em - rookie drivers on duty.

They are: Jake Dennis and Isack Hadjar at Red Bull, Robert Shwartzman (Ferrari), Frederik Vesti (Mercedes), Jack Doohan (Alpine), Pato O'Ward (McLaren), Oliver Bearman (Haas), Theo Pourchaire (Alfa Romeo), Felipe Drugovich (Aston Martin) and Zak O'Sullivan (Williams).

They are replacing Verstappen, Perez, Hamilton, Leclerc, Norris, Alonso, Ocon, Albon, Zhou and Hulkenberg.

In the moments before the session, it was confirmed that Mercedes will continue to power the McLaren until 2030.

The lights go green and Stroll is first out, followed by Drugovich, Hadjar, O'Ward, Piastri and Bearman. Soon there are 17 drivers on track - using all three compounds - with Ricciardo, Sargeant and Tsunoda the last to emerge.

Stroll posts the first time of the weekend, the Canadian crossing the line at 31.035.

A number of teams are running aero rakes.

"My helmet is nowhere near tight enough, I will have to pit," warns Dennis as Russell (medium) goes quickest with a 27.673.

Sainz (soft) goes second, ahead of Ricciardo (medium), Magnussen (medium), Tsunoda (medium) and O'Sullivan (medium).

Tsunoda warns of smoke coming from his car but nonetheless goes second with a 27.888 and Gasly third.

Sargeant finally emerges and goes eighth before improving to third (27.959) on the mediums.

A big wobble in the final corner for O'Ward but he survives.

Russell improves to 26.963 as Tsunoda consolidates second, ahead of Sainz, Ricciardo and Sargeant.

With 42 minutes remaining, Drugovich, Piastri, Bottas and Pourchaire have yet to post times.

While the majority are on mediums, the Ferrari pair are the only drivers on softs with Pourchaire on hards.

Russell complains of an issue with his steering, while Piastri's McLaren is "very understeery".

Stroll goes second (27.253) as Pourchaire warns that the car might be running too low as he is bottoming in certain corners and almost lost it.

O'Sullivan (tenth) is the highest placed rookie, while Hadjar is at the other end of the timesheet, 3.810s off the pace.

Sargeant and Doohan are to be investigated after the session after the Australian, who was on a hot lap, encountered a very slow Williams on the racing line.

"Almost had the biggest accident of my life," says Doohan. "Doohan was too late, sorry," says Sargeant who feels he wasn't given enough notice of the fat approaching Alpine.

With 25 minutes remaining the driver begin switching to the softs.

Russell consolidates his position with a 26.081, while Sargeant goes fourth (27.004), as Gasly posts a 26.720 having gone quickest in the second sector.

Vesti goes sixth, O'Ward seventh, and Drugovich tenth.

Vesti improves to third with a 26.815 as Gasly complains of having no rear grip in the last sector

Piastri improves to second with a 26.665 as the wind appears to be catching out a number of drivers in the final corner.

Switching to softs, Dennis improves to tenth with a 27.208, while the other Red Bull driver (Hadjar) remains rooted to the foot of the timesheets.

Drugovich goes second with a 26.406, while Schwartzman goes sixth (26.703) and Hadjar improves to 15th (27.244).

Doohan goes eleventh (26.865), but is demoted when Sainz improves to sixth with a 26.676.

"Oh boy, in Turn 3 I had a massive snap, I don't know what happened," reports Schwartzman. "That was scary."

Stroll and Vesti have been noted for driving erratically, as Russell complains that one of the Ferraris is going very slowly on the main straight. "It's dangerous," he warns.

A late improvement sees Bottas go fourth with a 26.453.

With all twenty drivers on track it is understandable that traffic is an issue.

Piastri complains about a very slow Sainz on the racing line. "Do you think it was dangerous," he is asked. "Yes," he replies.

There is another near miss when Hadjar has to take avoiding action after encountering a slow Stroll.

At the end of the session there will be a test of the automatic rain light system. A double yellow sector and low grip will be activated and after approximately 20 seconds low grip will be disabled. Another 10 seconds later the VSC will be activated. After approximately 20 seconds the VSC will be disabled.

The session ends. Russell is quickest, ahead of Drugovich, Ricciardo, Bottas, Stroll, Piastri, Sainz, Schwartzman, Gasly and Tsunoda.

Sargeant is eleventh, ahead of Vesti, Doohan, Pourchaire, O'Ward, Dennis, Hadjar, O'Sullivan, Magnussen and Bearman.

Check out our Friday gallery from Yas Marina here.

Article from Pitpass (

Published: 24/11/2023
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