Max Verstappen led the way in Formula 1’s arrival at Qatar’s Losail International Circuit, while Lewis Hamilton endured trouble with a damaged car and a lack of power.
The title leader looked comfortable around the sandy track on his way to the fastest time, a 1m23.723s, to beat AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly by 0.437s, the Frenchman rising through the order with a late lap on softs.
Mercedes followed in third and fourth, with Valtteri Bottas 0.471s adrift and Lewis Hamilton a further 0.351s off the pace.
It was an imperfect opening session for Mercedes and Hamilton in particular. It started promisingly enough, with the Briton on track to set a more competitive time on an earlier run before abandoning the lap late having suffered a snap of oversteer in the final sector, but car problems then hampered him in the second half of the hour.
Hamilton complained early that he felt his car was “massively down on power” — both cars were behind Red Bull Racing in the power-sensitive first and third sectors, though Mercedes wouldn’t confirm if Hamilton was running an old engine — and was forced to abort a run late in the session with a car issue, though he was able to return to the track in the final five minutes.
But the late-afternoon timing of first practice isn’t representative of qualifying and the race, run after dark. Track temperatures during night-time second practice later today are expected to be cooler than the 108 degrees F registered in FP1, negating the seriousness of any problems in the opening hour.
Yuki Tsunoda ended the hour fifth for AlphaTauri ahead of Ferrari teammates Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc, with Sergio Perez eighth in the second Red Bull Racing car, 1.2s off the pace.
Esteban Ocon led the way for Alpine in ninth ahead of McLaren duo Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo. The Australian radioed his team approval of the new-to-F1 Losail layout, but his British teammate suffered a more difficult hour, triggering an apparent sensor fault running over the aggressive curbs in the penultimate turn that necessitated time confined to his garage.
Sebastian Vettel was 12th ahead of Nicholas Latifi, and Alfa Romeo teammates Antonio Giovinazzi and Kimi Raikkonen were closely matched at 2s off the pace in 14th and 15th.
George Russell ended the hour 16th ahead of Fernando Alonso, who picked up damage to his car on the curbs through the penultimate corner.
Haas driver Mick Schumacher was 18th despite a late trip through the gravel at Turn 7. Lance Stroll followed in 19th, but the Canadian ended FP1 with only 11 laps to his name after suffering a brake-by-wire problem. Nikita Mazepin completed the order in 20th.