RACE DEBRIEF

    Pietro Fittipaldi at Haas and Jack Aitken at Williams have both found themselves thrust into the limelight as they get set to make their Formula 1 race debuts this weekend at the Sakhir Grand Prix. And despite a few nervous moments for both drivers during Friday’s practice sessions, both seemed to be enjoying their roles as fully-fledged F1 drivers.

    Haas reserve driver Fittipaldi – grandson of two-time champion Emerson Fittipaldi – was drafted into the American team as a replacement for Romain Grosjean, still recovering after his fiery crash at the Bahrain Grand Prix last Sunday. And the Brazilian, who finished 0.372s behind team mate Kevin Magnussen in P18 in Free Practice 2, appeared to be loving life after his first outing in F1 machinery this year.

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    “It was fantastic,” he said. “It’s exciting. It’s one year since I’ve driven an F1 car, eighth months since I’ve driven anything and I come out here and I took it step by step, but it’s crazy. You’re on the big stage now, this is the big league, so you go out in FP1 and it’s different because there’s a bunch of cameras, everyone taking pictures, so you’ve got to just stay focused, keep calm.

    “With all the procedural stuff, that was my main kind of like, ‘let’s really focus on this so I don’t make any mistakes’, and I felt really good with that, with the starts, the pit stops,” added Fittipaldi.

    “The only setback was in FP1, we had a lock-up that damaged my tyres so I couldn’t do any more running. But I kept my cool, went into FP2, did all my running. We closed the gap, which was really good. Tomorrow I’ll make another step and slowly raise the volume and push with everything when it counts in qualifying and the race.”

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    Fittipaldi was happy with how his day had gone

    Aitken, meanwhile, steps up from Formula 2 into the Williams FW43 vacated by George Russell – who replaced the ill Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes, with Russell leading both of Friday’s free practice sessions. And Aitken – who drove in FP1 for Williams at the Styrian Grand Prix – said he felt he’d built a “solid foundation” after finishing FP2 half a second off team mate Nicholas Latifi in P19.

    “The first few laps in FP1 were just remembering things from when I did FP1 in Austria, and it was all pretty familiar, so I got up to speed okay,” said Aitken. “I think there’s a little bit of work to be done on one-lap pace, especially because it appears to be really peaky tyres, like one lap and then it’s gone. But the race pace was pretty encouraging, so I’m happy.

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    “I got a lot of laps under the belt and I think that’s a pretty solid foundation for when the fun starts tomorrow, so looking forward to getting into quali and all of that.

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    “I had a couple of slip ups but nothing too major,” added Aitken, who had a narrow miss with Magnussen in FP2, and spun his car at Turn 2 during FP1. “I just got a little bit too confident at the wrong time with the tyres and luckily didn’t cause any damage or anything like that. It just cost us a few laps, so it was alright.”

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    With both drivers having to quickly get back up to speed with the g-forces involved in driving a Formula 1 car, meanwhile, Fittipaldi confirmed that it would be straight to the massage table for him tonight.

    “I’m going to sleep well!” he said. “I’m a little bit sore already, but we’ll work on it tonight with the [personal trainer] and we’ll be back tomorrow feeling good.”