Formula 1

Sainz leads the First Practice Session in Austin, Four Rookies Make Free Practice Debut

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Credit: Scuderia Ferrari Media Centre

After quite the week off track with Oracle Red Bull Racing‘s minor breach of the spend cap being a hot topic and discussions still ongoing with the team, the FIA Formula 1 World Championship is back in Austin, Texas.

There was a general impatience to get out onto the track at the Circuit of the Americas as the teams lined up in the pit lane under the Austin sunshine. All of the rookies made their way out onto the track, including American driver Logan Sargeant in Williams Racing‘s FW44.

Carlos Sainz Jr. sets the pace early on a lap time of 1:41.381, just ahead of BWT Alpine F1 driver Esteban Ocon. However, the session was about to be halted as Antonio Giovonazzi, in his first return to Formula 1 since the 2021 season, collided with the barrier off of turn 6 resulting in the session being suspended under a red flag and forcing the Haas driver to exit his car just ten minutes into the session.

Mechanics in the Haas F1 Team garage reported on the damage, claiming Giovonazzi over-heated the clutch moments before the crash making a gearbox change likely.

With forty-six minutes left on the clock, the session was allowed to continue as the track welcomed last year’s winner and current Formula 1 World Driver’s Champion, Max Verstappen out onto the circuit. Unsurprisingly, Verstappen was quick to set the fastest time of 1:38.272 on a brand new set of soft tyres, half a second ahead of Ocon, making the top three round off as Verstappen and the two Alpine drivers.

Forty-minutes into the session, NTT IndyCar Series star Alex Palou finally emerged onto the track setting a time 2.6s off of Verstappen and 1.3s off his temporary team-mate Lando Norris. The McLaren F1 Team driver arrived on the track in an extremely voracious manner, pushing the car to the limit and chasing an impressive first time which seemed just out of reach as the driver spent most of the session behind Norris.

Verstappen’s time, remaining unbeaten for a long stretch of the session was eventually pipped from first place by Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant F1 Team driver Lance Stroll. However, the Canadian driver had a short-lived moment at the top of the timesheet as Sainz found a sudden burst of power and set his best time through the first sector, extending his lead over Stroll, who had fallen to third thanks to Lewis Hamilton, by 0.603s.

With ten minutes of the session remaining, all drivers were sporting the soft tyre except Palou and Théo Pourchaire, in at Alfa Romeo F1 Team ORLEN in place of Valtteri Bottas for the session, as the IndyCar star and FIA Formula 2 rookie remained on the medium tyre.

By the end of the session, the Spaniard was still at the top of his game, after seventeen laps completed the Scuderia Ferrari Formula 1 driver maintained the pace of 1:36.857, 0.2s ahead of Verstappen who seemed to be experiencing control issues with the front end of his car. The top five rounded off by Hamilton, Stroll and Sergio Pérez.

Fernando Alonso ended the best of the Alpine drivers in sixth ahead of the second Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team driver, George Russell, while Scuderia AlphaTauri‘s Pierre Gasly ended eighth ahead of Norris and the second Aston Martin of Sebastian Vettel.

Ocon ended just outside the top ten in eleventh ahead of Zhou Guanyu, the Chinese driver racing at the Circuit of the Americas for the first time this year. Alexander Albon placed thirteenth for Williams ahead of AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda, while Haas’ Mick Schumacher rounded out the top fifteen.

The rookie drivers remained at the back end of the times sheets, Robert Schwartzman ending the session as the fastest reserve driver in sixteenth position, although the Ferrari reserve driver was on a much better lap at the end of the session until he encountered Verstappen going relatively slowly through the final two corners to ruin his lap. Palou ended seventeenth ahead of Pourchaire and Sargeant, with the crashed Giovinazzi rounding out the field.

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