[F1 Qatar GP: Verstappen leads practice as drivers struggle for grip
Verstappen bolted on the soft tyres in the final part of the session to leapfrog long-time session leader Fernando Alonso, setting a 1m27.428s. T
he championship leader, who can sew up the title in Saturday’s sprint race, then saw off an initial attempt from Charles Leclerc as the Monegasque suffered a snap of steering in his opening sector.
Sainz drew close with a 1m27.762s, but this was only good enough for second overall as Leclerc popped up into third on a second run with the soft tyres.
High winds and sandy residue on a new track surface contributed to a slippery circuit, causing Sainz to quip “My dad [two-time WRC champion Carlos Sainz Sr] would be quick in these conditions”.
This ensured that the early times were well off the pace of F1’s last visit to the Lusail circuit in 2021, where Verstappen topped that FP1 session with a 1m23.723s. His ultimate pole time that year was a 1m20.827s, leaving him almost seven seconds short of that benchmark at the end of practice.
Fernando Alonso had topped the session ahead of the final half-hour, and his subsequent 1m27.919s was good enough to deliver fourth overall despite the obvious grip advantage of the softs around the refurbished Qatar circuit.
This was a tenth clear of Sergio Perez’s time, as the Mexican could not get particularly close to his team-mate over the hour-long duration.
Yuki Tsunoda’s late lap was enough to thrust the Japanese into sixth place overall, as AlphaTauri continued to show solid form after the introduction of its latest upgrade package in Singapore.
This moved him ahead of Nico Hulkenberg, who fired his Haas up the order having been one of the first to defect to the soft compound tyre towards the end of the session.
He beat the eighth-fastest George Russell, who spent much of the early running responsible for bringing down the ultimate pace as the circuit’s layer of dust was slowly cleared by the circulating cars.
Russell had wound the times below the 90-second watermark on the hard compound tyre amid the difficulties with early grip levels, but did not set a lap on the soft tyres at the end to inflate his time.
He beat McLaren duo Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris, who had fired their way to the top on the medium tyres just after the half-way mark before the later runners eclipsed them on better circuit conditions.
Williams pair Logan Sargeant and Alex Albon were 11th and 12th respectively after grabbing fast times on soft tyres, while Lewis Hamilton backed out of a hot lap after getting too far over the kerbs.
F1 Qatar GP – FP1 results