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FP1: Russell fastest in rookie-filled opening Abu Dhabi GP practice

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Mercedes driver George Russell set the pace during Friday afternoon’s first free practice session for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, consistently leading the way in a session that many regular racers sat out to give rookies valuable time at the wheel.

As part of the regulations requiring teams to give ‘rookie’ drivers – defined as those who have contested no more than two Grands Prix – two FP1 runs over the course of the campaign, all outfits bar AlphaTauri left it until this weekend’s action at Yas Marina Circuit to tick the boxes.

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Moreover, and rather unusually, both Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez vacated their RB19s this time out, with Formula E title holder and Red Bull simulator driver Jake Dennis getting his first F1 weekend outing, alongside F2 racer Isack Hadjar, who appeared for AlphaTauri in Mexico.

Elsewhere, Ferrari reserve driver Robert Shwartzman hit the track again for the Scuderia, F2 title contender Frederik Vesti was in at Mercedes, Alpine-backed Jack Doohan picked up more F1 mileage and IndyCar star Pato O’Ward drove the McLaren ahead of his 2024 reserve duties.

Abu Dhabi 2023

Practice 1 results

PositionTeam NameTime
1RUS1:26.072
2DRU+0.288s
3RIC+0.361s
4BOT+0.381s
5STR+0.559s
View Full Results

There was also another practice opportunity for F2 rookie Oliver Bearman at Haas, alongside F2 championship leader Theo Pourchaire at Alfa Romeo, Aston Martin reserve Felipe Drugovich and Williams-affiliated F3 championship runner-up Zak O’Sullivan.

Given the mixture of experience levels throughout the field, a host of different run plans were in play during the 60 minutes of running, with the steady flow of lap time improvements matched by lock-ups, slides and off-track excursions as drivers built up confidence.

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At the end of it all, Russell held the P1 benchmark with a time of 1m 26.072s on Pirelli’s soft compound tyre, putting him three-tenths clear of fastest-rookie Drugovich in his latest F1 outing, Daniel Ricciardo’s AlphaTauri and Valtteri Bottas’ Alfa Romeo.

The other Aston of Lance Stroll and McLaren’s Oscar Piastri were a couple of tenths further back, followed by Carlos Sainz and Shwartzman, the latter impressing to finish within a few hundredths of Ferrari’s regular driver despite a late scare when his car bottomed out through Turn 3.

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Verstappen took up an unfamiliar spot on the Red Bull pit wall for first practice

Pierre Gasly put his Alpine ninth, with former AlphaTauri team mate Yuki Tsunoda rounding out the top 10 positions from Williams’ Logan Sargeant and a gaggle of rookie drivers in Vesti, Doohan, Pourchaire and O’Ward.

Sargeant and Doohan were involved in one of the most dramatic moments of the session when the Alpine stand-in rounded the final corner at speed, only to be forced to take evasive action due to the American running slowly on the racing line.

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Red Bull rookies Dennis and Hadjar ended the session closely matched in 16th and 17th respectively, with O’Sullivan 18th for Williams and the Haas machines of Kevin Magnussen and Bearman bringing up the rear.

F1 teams will now regroup in the paddock before returning to the track for Friday’s second practice session at 1700 local time.

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