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FP1: Verstappen leads Sainz and Leclerc as Sprint weekend begins in Austria

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Red Bull driver Max Verstappen set the pace during first practice for the Austrian Grand Prix, placing ahead of Ferrari pair Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc across a busy hour of running around the Red Bull Ring.

Following its first appearance of the season in Azerbaijan, F1’s Sprint format is back in play at the Spielberg venue and promises another action-packed weekend of racing – with more points and prizes on offer than usual.

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Under the revised 2023 schedule, drivers and teams have one practice session to get their cars in order for qualifying, which takes place later on Friday, with Saturday set aside for the Sprint Shootout and Sprint itself, followed by the Grand Prix itself on Sunday.

As the FP1 action got under way in warm and dry conditions, but with rain very much a threat for the remainder of the weekend, the top three finishers from the Canadian Grand Prix – Verstappen, Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton – continued where they left off and promptly got down to business.

Austria 2023

Practice 1 results

PositionTeam NameTime
1VER1:05.742
2SAI+0.241s
3LEC+0.27s
4HAM+0.509s
5PER+0.52s
View Full Results

Just over 10 minutes in, it was Verstappen who topped the times with a 1m 06.598s on hard tyres, half a tenth clear of Alonso (mediums) and a further tenth ahead of Hamilton (hards), with the hard-shod Sergio Perez – who missed Thursday’s media duties through illness – also in the leading group.

After several phases of improvements on the mediums and hards, which included a 1m 06.416s from Hamilton that saw the seven-time world champion briefly take over at the sharp end, a late flurry of runs on softs sent the timesheets into a frenzy.

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However, while most of the field swapped to softs in the closing stages, including the Mercedes machines and the upgraded Ferraris (sporting a new front wing and floor edges), the Red Bulls opted against using the red-marked rubber and used mediums instead.

Despite the tyre performance offset, it could not stop Verstappen – who has won six of the eight races held so far this season – leading the way, with his 1m 05.742s some two-and-a-half tenths quicker than Sainz and Leclerc.

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The Spielberg hills were alive with the sound of 20 F1 cars during FP1

Hamilton was the lead Mercedes in fourth, followed by the other Red Bull of Perez, while Haas driver Kevin Magnussen – set for his 150th Grand Prix start this weekend – grabbed P7 to split the Aston Martins of Lance Stroll and Alonso.

George Russell was around four-tenths slower than team mate Hamilton en route to ninth, with Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu completing the top 10 from Williams racer Alex Albon – looking to add to his fine points finish in Montreal – and McLaren rookie Oscar Piastri.

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Nico Hulkenberg and Valtteri Bottas were 13th and 14th respectively in the second of the Haas and Alfa Romeo cars, the latter surviving a trip through the gravel exiting Turn 4, ahead of AlphaTauri pair Yuki Tsunoda and Nyck de Vries.

Bringing up the rear were Williams’ Logan Sargeant and the Alpines of Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly, who had a low-key start to the weekend, with Lando Norris 20th and last in his heavily-updated McLaren after ending the session without a time on softs.

F1 drivers and teams will now have a short break to regroup in the paddock and analyse the data from first practice before the all-important qualifying session – which sets the grid for Sunday’s race – gets under way at 1700 local time.

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