Verstappen dominates Australian GP FP1 after two red flags

Lionel Ng/Motorsport Images

Verstappen dominates Australian GP FP1 after two red flags

Formula 1

Verstappen dominates Australian GP FP1 after two red flags


Max Verstappen dominated a frenetic twice-suspended first practice session at the Australian Grand Prix that saw several driver in the gravel.

Verstappen set the early pace after opening the hour with a set of soft tires and never lost top spot, eventually lowering the benchmark to 1m18.790s on worn rubber. It wasn’t completely smooth running for the Dutchman, however, who complained of gearbox problems early in the session before later clambering over the curb at the exit of Turn 4 and spinning across the track, coming perilously close to nosing the barrier. The Red Bull’s tires ruined, he returned to pit lane and ended his session.

The world champion’s scrappy final laps left open the door to Lewis Hamilton to make a late gain on top spot, closing to within a modest 0.433s with his final soft run. The Briton noted that his Mercedes was bouncing again, and partway through the session he suffered a big snap in the middle of the super-fast Turn 9-10 chicane, but he ended the hour unscathed.

Sergio Perez flirted with disaster on his way to third and 0.503s off this teammate, albeit after only one soft-tire run. He skated over grass and collected gravel several times, including at the exit of Turn 3 and later again at the first turn.

Perez wasn’t alone in overrunning the track limits, with several drivers overestimating the amount grip available on the green street track, perhaps spurred on by Verstappen’s dominant time.

Yuki Tsunoda came the closest to depriving his mechanics of a lunch break with a massive lock-up at Turn 1, pitching him into a spin and getting him partially airborne as he hit the gravel. He avoided the wall by mere feet and was able to continue back to pit lane.

Both Haas drivers were frequent visitors to the run-off areas, with Kevin Magnussen collecting more than his fair share of stones and Nico Hulkenberg locking up and trimming the the penultimate corner after being spooked by a McLaren on the apex.

Undoubtedly stressed engineers were given a breather by a mid-session red flag thrown due to a GPS failure that prevented teams from monitoring drivers on track, which the FIA considered a safety issue.

A second red flag was thrown for Williams driver Logan Sargeant, whose car shut down with four minutes remaining, bringing FP1 to an early end.

Fernando Alonso just squeezed into fourth for Aston Martin before practice was called off, with Ferrari teammates Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz following 0.588s and 0.715s off the pace respectively.

Lando Norris was hearteningly high for McLaren in seventh and only just behind the red cars. Pierre Gasly followed in eighth ahead of George Russell and Lance Stroll.

Alex Albon was 11th ahead of Australian Oscar Piastri, Nico Hulkenberg, Nyck de Vries and the stopped Logan Sargeant.

Esteban Ocon was 16th, with Yuki Tsunoda, Alfa Romeo teammates Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu, and Kevin Magnussen completing the bottom four.