Ocon sets the pace as Russell car failure causes heavy crash in post-season Abu Dhabi test

Special Contributor

Chris Medland
ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 28: Esteban Ocon of France driving the (31) Alpine F1

Esteban Ocon set the pace as the 2023 season drew to a close with a busy and incident-filled day of testing in Abu Dhabi.

Teams could run two cars – one for race drivers to test tyres and one for rookies – but the start of running was delayed for 25 minutes for the slightly unusual reason of the medical helicopter not yet being in position. The sight of the helicopter circling the track was enough for George Russell to head to the end of the pit lane ready to start his running, but it was another few minutes before the helicopter had landed and the track went green.

GALLERY: F1 drivers complete their final laps of 2023 during Abu Dhabi post-season test

After that delay, there was then an interruption half an hour later due to a water leak on the track between Turn 13 and Turn 14. The leak ensured a red flag while the issue was rectified, with teams losing out on a further 25 minutes on that occasion.

The next red flag was caused by more traditional means, as Russell crashed at Turn 6 just after 13:00 local time. An apparent car failure led to the Mercedes driver going straight on at the end of the long straight, heavily damaging the front right corner of the car and bringing an early end to his running for the day.

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 28: George Russell of Great Britain driving the (63)

It was an eventful day on track for George Russell with a car failure causing him to crash during the test

While many teams were already thinking about a lunch break, the near-30-minute stoppage enforced it for some and led to those who were running different drivers in the afternoon being able to start work on switching their car configurations over.

Despite the number of cars on track there were relatively few further moments that caught the eye of race control. Jake Dennis spinning his Red Bull at Turn 12, with three hours of the day remaining, was one of those to cause a spell of yellow flags, as was Zak O’Sullivan after a spin at Turn 1 later on.

TECH TUESDAY: How AlphaTauri transformed their performance after starting 2023 as the slowest car

But there was a late interruption, and it was a dramatic one, when Ayumu Iwasa had to stop his AlphaTauri at the pit entry and fire marshals needed to extinguish his car, causing a further 15-minute delay.

Through it all, Ocon enjoyed smooth running and set the pace with a 1:24.393, completing 110 laps and ending up nearly 0.3s clear of McLaren’s new reserve driver Pato O’Ward as the top 19 drivers all set best laps on the softest C5 compound. The Mexican - who also ran in FP1 last weekend - edged out Fred Vesti in the Mercedes and Sergio Perez in this year’s dominant Red Bull, with all four exceeding 100 laps.

Ayumu Iwasa had to stop his AlphaTauri at the pit entry with fire marshals needed to extinguish his car

Ayumu Iwasa had to stop his AlphaTauri at the pit entry with fire marshals needed to extinguish his car

“It was a very positive day,” Perez said. “Always on these days driving, it’s always a pain in the ass to end up doing it but there is so much learning and it’s productive as well.

“It was good and important to put in the time, it’s been another productive day and I think especially coming out of a race everything is really fresh, the circuit was very representative, especially in the afternoon, so yeah plenty of productive testing and good information for next year. All in all it’s a good way to finish the year.”

READ MORE: Which drivers are taking part in the post-season test in Abu Dhabi

Carlos Sainz had been quickest at the halfway stage before handing over to team mate Charles Leclerc at Ferrari, and the Spaniard dropped to fifth by the chequered flag ahead of his countryman Fernando Alonso.

Lance Stroll drove the morning for Aston Martin before handing over to Alonso, meaning the two-time world champion only had time for 37 laps.

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 28: Sergio Perez of Mexico and Oracle Red Bull Racing

Sergio Perez described the test as a 'positive day'

Next came Jack Doohan after a productive day for the Alpine reserve, with a best time of 1:25.038 leaving him just 0.012s clear of Robert Shwartzman in the Ferrari, while Logan Sargeant and Leclerc – both afternoon runners – rounded out the top ten.

Fresh from their FP1 runs, Theo Pourchaire and Felipe Drugovich were 11th and 12th for Alfa Romeo and Aston Martin respectively, while Iwasa’s stoppage came after 96 laps of his debut run for AlphaTauri, ending up 15th overall.

Another debutant was seen at Williams where Franco Colapinto became the first Argentinian to drive a current F1 car for more than 20 years, completing 65 laps in the morning before handing over to O’Sullivan. His total was only half of the benchmark though, as Pietro Fittipaldi boasted the highest mileage with 130 laps for Haas.

READ MORE: Wolff praises 'sportsmanlike' Leclerc as Mercedes clinch P2 in constructors'


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‘This one hurts’ – Leclerc pinpoints issue for Ferrari to look into after disastrous double DNF in Canada