Fernando Alonso set the fastest time of the Young Driver Test in Abu Dhabi on his return to current Formula 1 machinery.
The 39-year-old was driving for Renault after his team successfully lobbied the FIA to allow drivers who had not raced in F1 this season to take part, opening the door for the likes of Robert Kubica, Stoffel Vandoorne and Sebastien Buemi to also participate. While the Spaniard has driven the 2020 Renault as part of a filming day in Barcelona, this was his first test session in anger in a current car and he duly topped the standings with a 1m36.333s; a lap time marginally quicker than the team’s best in qualifying for last weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
There were 15 cars taking part in total, with two each from Mercedes, Red Bull, Renault, Ferrari, AlphaTauri, Alfa Romeo and Williams and one from Haas, while McLaren and Racing Point did not participate. The latter two had already opted against taking part due to a lack of drivers that they could use before the rules were changed to allow the likes of Alonso.
It was the Mercedes pair who were second and third, the team running its Formula E driver line-up of Nyck de Vries and Vandoorne. For 2019 Formula 2 champion de Vries it was an F1 test debut and he ended up second, 0.262s off Alonso and with 110 laps to his name, while Vandoorne was a quarter of a second further back.
Little can be read into the times based on the fact that teams were not allowed to run test items, and were all limited to five sets of the C4 tire compound and two sets of the softest C5s. The strict regulations were due to the original intention being to sell seats for young drivers to gain experience.
No other driver dipped below the 1m37s mark, with Robert Kubica fourth for Alfa Romeo with a 1m37.446s, and future AlphaTauri driver Yuki Tsunoda fifth with a 1m37.557s. Juri Vips made his debut for Red Bull and was sixth with a 1m37.770s, leading a closely-matched group of cars that also included Antonio Fuoco (Ferrari), Callum Ilott (Alfa Romeo) and Guanyu Zhou (Renault) who were all covered by 0.132s.
Williams reserve Jack Aitken – who made a one-off race appearance in Bahrain – posted a 1m38.153s to pip Ferrari debutant Robert Shwartzman by 0.004s, the pair just over 0.1s clear of Buemi in the Red Bull. The Nissan eDams Formula E driver followed Zhou in spinning out of Turn 19, damaging his rear wing against the barrier.
Marino Sato (AlphaTauri, 1m38.495s), Roy Nissany (Williams, 1m39.800s) and Mick Schumacher (Haas, 1m39.947s) were bottom of the times, with Nissany causing a red flag when he stopped on track.