George Russell, Mercedes, Yas Marina, 2023

Russell quickest as test drivers replace 10 regulars in first practice session

Formula 1

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George Russell set the quickest time in the opening practice session for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in which 10 junior drivers participated.

The Mercedes race driver’s best time of a 1’26.072 on soft tyres was quickest of all from Aston Martin junior driver Felipe Drugovich, with Daniel Ricciardo third fastest for AlphaTauri.

Unusually for a first practice session, half of the field participating were junior drivers. Both Red Bull drivers, Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez, missed the session to allow Formula E champion Jake Dennis and Isack Hadjar to participate in the session. The world champions also took the opportunity to give race engineer experience to team members Tom Hart and Richard Wood, who were on the radio to Dennis and Hadjar, respectively.

Elsewhere in the pit lane, Lewis Hamilton stepped aside for Frederik Vesti. Robert Shwartzman took over Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari, with IndyCar driver Pato O’Ward driving Lando Norris’s McLaren. Felipe Drugovich drove Fernando Alonso’s Aston Martin, Jack Doohan got a drive in Esteban Ocon’s Alpine, Theo Pourchaire had a run in the Alfa Romeo of Zhou Guanyu while Oliver Bearman drove Nico Hulkenberg’s Haas and Zak O’Sullivan had an opportunity in Alexander Albon’s Williams.

Lance Stroll was the first driver to set a lap, posting a 1’31.035, before Mercedes’ George Russell posted the first truly representative time with a 1’27.673 on the medium compound tyres. Russell continued to improve on the medium tyres, lowering his best to a 1’26.313 as Yuki Tsunoda was the closest to the Mercedes, albeit a second slower.

There was a dangerous near-miss at the final corner involving Doohan and Williams driver Logan Sargeant, where Doohan had to take avoiding action to avoid the Williams which was arriving slowly at the approach to the final corner about to start a flying lap. The stewards have confirmed the incident will be investigated after the session.

Russell fitted soft tyres onto his Mercedes and lowered the best time of the session to a 1’26.072, with Drugovich going second-fastest on the softest compound as well. There was another near-miss incident at the final corner involving Stroll and Vesti, while Hadjar had to take avoiding action under braking for turn six as Stroll was appearing to be running slow on the racing line. Neither incident were investigated by the stewards.

At the end of the hour, the chequered flag signalled the end of the session with Russell’s 1’26.072 the fastest time of all. Drugovic was second fastest, just under three tenths slower and the fastest junior driver, ahead of Ricciardo’s AlphaTauri in third.

Valtteri Bottas was fourth fastest for Alfa Romeo, with Stroll fifth and Oscar Piastri sixth. Carlos Sainz Jnr was just two-hundredths of a second quicker than Shwartzman in the second Ferrari in seventh, with Pierre Gasly and Tsunoda completing the top ten.

Vesti was 12th-fastest for Mercedes ahead of Doohan 13th, Pourchaire 14th and O’Ward 15th. The two Red Bulls of Dennis and Hadjar were 16th and 17th, respectively, with O’Sullivan 18th for Williams. Bearman was slowest in the session in the Haas, but only a tenth slower than team mate Kevin Magnussen.

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2023 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix first practice result

163George RussellMercedesW141’26.07226
234Felipe DrugovichAston Martin-MercedesAMR231’26.3600.28826
33Daniel RicciardoAlphaTauri-Honda RBPTAT041’26.4330.36126
477Valtteri BottasAlfa Romeo-FerrariC431’26.4530.38121
518Lance StrollAston Martin-MercedesAMR231’26.6310.55921
681Oscar PiastriMcLaren-MercedesMCL601’26.6650.59325
755Carlos Sainz JnrFerrariSF-231’26.6760.60424
839Robert ShwartzmanFerrariSF-231’26.7030.63125
910Pierre GaslyAlpine-RenaultA5231’26.7200.64826
1022Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri-Honda RBPTAT041’26.7250.65327
112Logan SargeantWilliams-MercedesFW451’26.7420.67027
1242Frederik VestiMercedesW141’26.8150.74327
1361Jack DoohanAlpine-RenaultA5231’26.8650.79323
1498Theo PourchaireAlfa Romeo-FerrariC431’27.0931.02120
1529Pato O’WardMcLaren-MercedesMCL601’27.1141.04223
1636Jake DennisRed Bull-Honda RBPTRB191’27.2081.13624
1737Isack HadjarRed Bull-Honda RBPTRB191’27.2441.17220
1845Zak O’SullivanWilliams-MercedesFW451’27.4601.38828
1920Kevin MagnussenHaas-FerrariVF-231’27.4621.39026
2050Oliver BearmanHaas-FerrariVF-231’27.5691.49724

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2023 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

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Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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10 comments on “Russell quickest as test drivers replace 10 regulars in first practice session”

  1. The Red Bull is not that wonderful then perhaps Perez has some justification in appearing all at sea sometimes. I must say I have a fraction more liking for Max since his original attitude to the Carnival in Las Vegas , shame that the behind the scenes moguls seemed to have persuaded him he loved every moment of it.

    1. Given that RBR are so far down the order, it really does make me wonder if their car is as exceptional as it would appear under Verstappen’s hands.

      1. yeah, it’s a 17th place car but Perez and Max put it on 1 and 2. Those two geniuses.
        Red Bull have such a quality staff, they should do better with the car than to just rely on the drivers to put it where it doesn’t belong.

      2. @maddsusie
        You must be new to F1 if you allow yourself having such irrational doubts that RedBull might not be an exceptional car.

        1. @Asd, Oh you are a sensitive soul aren’t you…. I’m far from a new follower of F1 or any motorsport.

          I’m guessing that you like so many others on this site are anti-RBR!

      3. Seeing both Red Bulls that low was surpriising, though without knowing what fuel loads, tyres etc, were being used by everyone, it can be very misleading. My guess would be that the Red Bull drivers were told not to damage the car under any circumstances, whilst other teams are still trying to find ways of finding performance and allowing the drivers to push a bit harder, whilst Drugovich might have been told to push as hard as he could because they want to see how he compares with Stroll. But it is all just guesswork.

      4. How can you doubt that? The RBR aka rocketship is of course the most dominant car in the history of motor racing, not just F1. Even driven by a dormouse it can improve anybody else’s lap times by a few centuries. And of course my granny drives much better than Max. Any half-decent driver in the RBR would have won all the races lapping every other driver a googol times.

    2. Red Bull instructed VIPs last year to drive to a set delta on a single set of hards over an entire session.

      I’m convinced that Dennis and Hadjar (neither massive prospects) weren’t allowed to push the limits of their car to the extent Drugovich, Bearman etc were.

    3. Not a real surprise. It’s mostly fans not liking Max claiming the RB is a dominant unbeatable car. It is an intentional statement to devalue the performance of Max. But it is not based on facts. All we see is that the 2nd guy in the team can’t distract the same results in a way Rosberg & Bottas for instance did manage to do next to Hamilton, in the dominant Mercedes years. Sure Perez eventually got it in 2nd place in the WDC but it was not a given at all even when his competition really dropped the ball on numerous occasions.

      If you then add the expert view (not talking about fans, but people with a track record in the sport) all stating Max is an exceptional talent & driver, then I guess it does make sense to take that into account when evaluating the car’s performance.

      1. I don’t remember Rosberg or Bottas getting as many track limits violations, crashes or speeding in the pitlane penalties in their whole careers as Perez did this season.

        The car is exceptional, the team is exceptional, Max is exceptional, period.

        Just accept it, it will be easier than to try to make Perez look like he didn’t do a terrible job this season.

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