Throughout the first practise session at the inaugural Qatar Grand Prix, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen led the pace.
For the majority of the session, Mercedes drivers Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton were second and third, respectively, before Alpha Tauri’s Pierre Gasly took second late on.
Gasly finished 0.437 seconds behind Verstappen and 0.034 seconds ahead of Bottas, with Hamilton fourth fastest at 0.786 seconds. Yuki Tsunoda of Alpha Tauri finished fifth, ahead of Sergio Perez of Red Bull.
The session was mostly uneventful as drivers investigated the Losail layout until Mick Schumacher’s Haas spun into the gravel on entry to Turn Seven.
Following Perez in the top ten were Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, Alpine’s Esteban Ocon, McLaren’s Lando Norris, and Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz. Hamilton inquired over the radio a few times if his Mercedes was losing power, but race engineer Peter Bonnington assured him that this was not the case.
With three races remaining, the seven-time champion is 14 points behind Verstappen in the standings.
Hamilton was donning a new rainbow-coloured helmet, a message in support of human rights, just a day after saying that countries like Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which will host their first grand prix in two weeks, require examination.
The practise session took place while F1 awaits the stewards’ judgement on Mercedes’ request for a re-examination of the controversial incident between the two title contenders on lap 48 of the Sao Paulo Grand Prix. Because of the low kerbs on a circuit meant for motorcycle racing, track limitations are expected to be a big concern over the weekend.
During the first practice, race director Michael Masi was not policing them, instead of watching to determine which bends were most likely to be abused by drivers running wide.
The first session is unlikely to reflect genuine performance, owing to the fact that it was the drivers’ and teams’ first time on the track, as well as the fact that this is a night race, with qualifying and the grand prix taking place after dark. Once the sun sets, track temperatures will be substantially lower than they were during the first practice in Qatar, which took place in the mid-afternoon.