Max Verstappen survived a spin during a twice red flagged opening free practice session of the Australian Grand Prix weekend to top the time sheets on Friday at Albert Park.
The Oracle Red Bull Racing driver set a best time of 1:18.790 on the soft Pirelli tyre to lead the pack by over four-tenths of a second, a pack that was led by Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team’s Lewis Hamilton.
However, it was not all plain sailing for Verstappen, the Dutchman making a mistake by going over the exit kerbs at turn four and spinning, although he was able to keep the RB19 out of the walls.
The session was twice halted, the first due a technical glitch surrounding the GPS system used by the FIA Formula 1 World Championship, with teams up and down the paddock unable to track their cars on circuit. Nine minutes of the hour were lost whilst a fix was put in place, with running deemed too dangerous without the system being used.
The second red flag came towards the end of the session when Logan Sargeant, making his first race appearance in Australia, stopped on track with what looked like an electrical problem on board his Williams Racing FW45.
Hamilton jumped up the order to second late in the session, but his time was 0.433 seconds back on the time set by Verstappen, while the second Red Bull of Sergio Pérez being relegated to third, a further 0.070 seconds back.
Fernando Alonso ended fourth fastest for the Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant Formula 1 Team despite setting his best time on the medium compound. He attempted a flying lap on the soft tyre but went off track during his run.
Fifth and sixth came the two Scuderia Ferrari drivers, Charles Leclerc ahead of Carlos Sainz Jr., although the latter was another to go off track, the Spaniard leaving the track between turns one and two after his SF23 appeared to snap on him.
Sainz was not the only driver to go off there, with the wind playing havoc with proceedings. Perhaps the wildest moment experienced at the turn was by Yuki Tsunoda, who somehow avoided making contact with the wall despite spinning through the gravel trap.
Lando Norris, who is still searching for his and the McLaren F1 Team’s first points finish of the 2023 season, ended seventh ahead of BWT Alpine F1 Team’s Pierre Gasly, while George Russell was almost half a second down on team-mate Hamilton and was down in ninth.
Lance Stroll completed the top ten in the second Aston Martin, while Alexander Albon was eleventh for Williams, the Thai driver setting a lap time identical to the thousandth of a second to the Canadian.
Oscar Piastri, racing in his home event for McLaren this weekend, was twelfth ahead of the leading MoneyGram Haas F1 Team driver, Nico Hülkenberg, the German just edging out Scuderia AlphaTauri’s Nyck de Vries and the second Williams of Sargeant.
Esteban Ocon was a lowly sixteenth for Alpine ahead of AlphaTauri’s Tsunoda, with Alfa Romeo F1 Team Stake’s Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu eighteenth and nineteenth. Kevin Magnussen rounded out the field in the second Haas.