[What we learned from Friday F1 practice at the British GP
Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz pushed Max Verstappen close on pure pace at the end of the opening practice sessions for Formula 1’s 2023 British Grand Prix, but a close look at the data shows the Red Bull driver was under little pressure when it comes to race speed.
In the other Ferrari, an electric problem meant Charles Leclerc missed all of FP2, while the Aston Martin drivers had little things break on their machines that caused interruptions in the afternoon session.
At Mercedes, things were more of a struggle overall, which contributed to the home crowd having less reason than usual to cheer for Lewis Hamilton and George Russell. Thankfully for the bumper crowd at Silverstone, Williams had a surprisingly strong showing in both FP1 and FP2.
Here’s everything we learned on Friday at the 2023 British GP.
The story of the day
FP1 got underway at 1230 local time – with a different feel compared to normal.
One race on from the Austrian sprint event and with the development race hotting up behind Red Bull, many teams were trying test items in the opening session around the usual aim of finding the baseline set-up choices. There was flow viz and aerodynamic rakes aplenty.
In a really not shocking twist, Red Bull led the way here – Verstappen setting the pace on a 1m28.600s, with his team-mate Sergio Perez slotting in 0.448s behind. Fernando Alonso and Charles Leclerc took fourth and fifth (0.668s and 0.680s behind respectively), but Alex Albon caused a stir putting his Williams a popular home third – 0.489s off the pace.
In the second session starting just after 1600, it was much more business as usual in terms of how the teams went about applying themselves – no more testing, just solidly understanding the new beefier construction of Pirelli tyres now in play.
Verstappen was unstoppable on Friday at Silverstone
Photo by: Jake Grant / Motorsport Images
Again, as can be seen in the times below, Verstappen led the way, but this time Sainz was right on the Dutchman’s pace, coming in 0.022s adrift.
It wasn’t a happy FP2 on the other side of the Ferrari garage, as a short circuit forced Leclerc to miss the entire second one-hour session, which was delayed five minutes due to the track needing a thorough sweeping after several offs and crashes in the previously run Formula 2 qualifying session.
FP2 overall order
Williams did end the day with joy spread across its pit box, as, after Albon had backed up his FP1 result with another third in FP2, Logan Sargeant put the second specially liveried FW45 into fifth behind Perez. The team feels it has returned to the high-speed prowess it showed in Canada, but nevertheless, its high placing has surprised even those in blue.
With all the usual caveats about fuel load and engine modes applying, we can see the start of the Silverstone weekend picture, which looks very good for Red Bull, less so for Ferrari despite its one-lap pace
The other usual 2023 frontrunners found themselves in considerable strife in FP2.
Aston Martin’s two drivers had their soft tyre qualifying simulation runs interrupted by car problems – Fernando Alonso was ordered to pit as a wheel rim issue developed on his AMR22, while Lance Stroll needed his left-side wing mirror fixed as its mounting came loose.
Stroll ended up as Aston’s top driver in sixth, but his late-FP2 long-running session was, however, complicated by a stone kicked up by another car striking one of his fingers and causing him considerable pain.
Mercedes ended FP2 with their two British drivers out of the top 10. As was the other Brit, Lando Norris in 14th – although at least London-born Albon had restored something for the home crowd in his Grove-built Williams.
Albon showed well in both Friday sessions, ending the day in P3 with team-mate Logan Sargeant P5
Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images
The Black Arrows drivers were left lamenting the hot 30°C air temperature in FP2, which continued their trend of struggling in such conditions. Hamilton also had to abandon his first lap on his qualifying simulation effort after struggling to get his car to hit apexes in the first sector.
New tyres present a new challenge, but Red Bull looks strong
Given the teams were trialling the new tyres, there was a lot more running than usual in the late-FP2 long-run data-gathering exercises. Haas even completed nearly half a GP distance, with Nico Hulkenberg pounding around on the hards.
With all the usual caveats about fuel load and engine modes applying, we can see the start of the Silverstone weekend picture, which looks very good for Red Bull, less so for Ferrari despite its one-lap pace, and Mercedes feeling it has a car that can fight for a podium but would right now struggle to qualify in the top 10.
Soft tyre averages
|1||Red Bull||1m33.603s||9 laps|
|2||Aston Martin||1m33.982s||10 laps|
|6||Alfa Romeo||1m34.840s||9 laps|
n/a – Williams, Haas and Alpine
Pirelli reckons there is a chance all three compounds this weekend could be viable race options, with plenty of teams deciding to spend a long time evaluating the softs in FP2.
As can be seen above, Red Bull led the way by a considerable margin on this tyre compared to its usual closest chasers. This suggests it was operating to a standardised fuel load and getting its drivers to manage their pace in line with how they know the tyres will hold up at other tracks, rather than filling up their tanks more as may have been the case for other teams.
Aston will be very encouraged by its performance on the softs. So too will Mercedes – even if its margin to Red Bull is a hefty 0.838s on average. This is because Hamilton’s times in that run were very consistent and actually improved on his final tours, with the seven-time world champion feeling his balance improved as the tyres wore.
Mercedes also feels its front wing update brought to this race is an improvement, but the wind and tyre factors at play today were covering things up a touch.
Mercedes ran a new front wing but both Hamilton and Russell struggled on Friday, with neither featuring in the top 10
Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images
On the former, there was a healthy crosswind shooting across the cars as they traversed the Loop, Luffield, Stowe and Club turns. This made for a considerable challenge at all but Stowe, which has its own downforce-demanding requirements, as the lower-speed corners are not territory where ground-effect cars perform well.
This meant all the drivers were struggling with extra rear sliding, which had a knock-on impact on tyre preservation. Plus, there was the high track temperatures to cope with in FP2. These meant struggles to keep front tyres in perfect temperature balance and if this went awry, the drivers would lose front axle grip too.
Ferrari’s soft-tyre long run comes in adrift of its typical rivals, but it was back to being Red Bull’s closest challenger on the mediums – albeit by such a hefty margin to suspect a major fuel load difference might be at play.
Medium tyre averages
|1||Red Bull||1m33.016s||7 laps|
|3||Aston Martin||1m34.416s||13 laps|
|8||Alfa Romeo||1m35.167s||10 laps|
n/a – McLaren and AlphaTauri
Ferrari’s performance on the mediums will be important to remember for the rest of the weekend if the softs do not end up as part of the race strategy.
On this, a two-stop race should be expected and it appears here the Scuderia may already be looking to split its tactics across its cars – provided Leclerc’s electronics issue is addressed over the rest of the weekend. Sainz has an extra set of new hard tyres available compared to the one set for both Red Bulls and Leclerc, while it’s the reverse on new mediums for those four drivers.
Ferrari has had strong race strategy of late, but its qualifying calls that have made the news for the Scuderia – because they have been poor. This has coincided with changes to lower temperature or rain (think Spain and Canada more than Austria), which is what is forecast for FP3 and potentially qualifying as well at Silverstone tomorrow.
There were no sparks flying for Leclerc in second practice, after an electrical issue forced him to sit out the session
Photo by: James Sutton / Motorsport Images
What they say:
Max Verstappen: “It was quite a good day for us. I think the track was quite slippery in the beginning, but also I think that is due to the high pressures we are running on the tyres. Of course, that’s the same for everyone. But that makes it a little bit more difficult in the low speed. But I think overall the car is performing really well. We are really happy with that performance – really strong in both sessions and we could complete our programme. Long runs look good as well. So, pretty positive.
Carlos Sainz: “We need to keep working on tyre management and race pace. This should be our main point of focus going into tomorrow, as today we could see that over one lap we were not too bad. Overall, we are quite happy with today but of course there’s still some work to do.”
Fernando Alonso: “It was very windy today which made it quite tricky, but the car felt good. We tested a few things in both sessions and there is more for us to analyse tonight. The weather looks like it could change tomorrow, so let’s see what conditions we are facing.”
Lewis Hamilton: “It didn’t feel particularly great, if I’m really honest. But it must have felt worse for others because they weren’t as quick or potentially had more deg. The last part of my run was starting to feel more consistent, for whatever reason. It might have been wind, it might have been balance, or me getting used to balance. This track is really about trying to weigh the scales the whole way around and making compromises here and there. There’s such a fine edge on the balance and such a big balance window. It’s back and forth, it’s never just here and you can just drive it. It’s like one end to the other end of the spectrum, from braking to turn in, to mid, to the exit of every corner. So it’s a good battle.”