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What the teams said after their first look at a new circuit - Friday in Qatar

Special Contributor

Becky Hart
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DOHA, QATAR - NOVEMBER 19: Fernando Alonso of Spain driving the (14) Alpine A521 Renault prepares

Mercedes

It wasn’t smooth sailing for Mercedes first up, with Hamilton complaining about being down on power, before later on being pulled into the pits for what looked like front wing damage. His day didn’t improve massively once the sun went down, as he found himself still lacking for pace. But Bottas proved to be the bright spot for Mercedes as the Finn took to this track from word go. Comfortably fastest in the representative FP2 session, it is all boding well for him heading into qualifying day.

READ MORE: Hamilton insists he’s focusing on his driving after Mercedes ‘Right of Review’ request is denied in Qatar

Lewis Hamilton – FP1: 1:24.509, P4; FP2: 1:23.498, P4

"It was a tricky day for me, I don't know exactly how big the gap is, but I'm definitely a bit off the benchmark. This is a new track, it felt okay to drive, quite nice and no real issues, but it's all high-speed corners so it's quite physical. We have some speed to find but we completed plenty of laps, so that's encouraging, and it gives us plenty of data to look into tonight. We'll see what progress we can make tomorrow."

Valtteri Bottas - FP1: 1:24.194, P3; FP2: 1:23.148, P1

"We've started the weekend pretty well with the set up. The balance felt good, so I only made a few minor tweaks for FP2. That's an encouraging way to start the weekend at a new track, the team did a really good job with their pre-weekend preparations. It's not far off the sweet spot, obviously there's always work to do and improvements to find and even with driving, you can't find all the speed available in just two sessions. We'll keep on working. It's hard to draw conclusions from today, practice is practice, but the feeling is okay and that's promising for the rest of the weekend."

Andrew Shovlin, Trackside Engineering Director

"New circuits are always an interesting challenge as you never quite know what you are dealing with until you start running, but today has gone well and the car seems suited to the track. Valtteri had a smooth day, the pace has been good on low and high fuel and the balance seems to be in the right place. We decided to start both cars with different set-ups as we weren't sure how the track was going to be and it looks like Valtteri's set-up was better suited, so Lewis had to unpick some of those changes going into FP2 and therefore we haven't yet got his car where we want. However, we've got a good direction to follow, and the tyres seem to be in a good window, we've just got to tune the balance a little. Overall a good start but the track is evolving rapidly, and grip is coming up with every session, so we need to make sure that we keep everything in the right place."

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DOHA, QATAR - NOVEMBER 19: Valtteri Bottas of Finland driving the (77) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes W12 during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Qatar at Losail International Circuit on November 19, 2021 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Red Bull

Verstappen opened up his weekend in perfect style, topping FP1 by a considerable margin. But once the temperatures cooled, he found himself struggling more for pace on the soft tyres. Neither Red Bull was helped by apparent rear wing issues which sidelined both cars for chunks of FP2, with Perez unable to get a representative lap time in under the lights thanks to traffic as well. Work to do heading into tomorrow.

READ MORE: Verstappen says Qatar is a ‘lot of fun’ – and addresses Brazil Lap 48 fallout

Max Verstappen - FP1: 1:23.723, P1; FP2: 1:23.498, P3

“I’ve had a lot of fun driving today, I think it’s a really cool track. FP2 was the first time we could test on the track in the evening so it was important to see how the car would react. There was quite a big change between the medium and the soft tyre for me, the soft tyre wasn’t amazing but it’s the first time here so there are a lot of things to understand. It’s difficult to say what will happen during the race with these cars, it’s tough to follow but I think over one lap it’s going to be good. Let’s see what happens this weekend, there’s still a lot of things to look at as everything is still so new.”

Sergio Perez - FP1: 1:24.915, P8; FP2: 1:23.787, P8

"I have driven this track before when I was younger and it is slowly starting to come back to me now I have been out there, I don’t feel that has put me at any advantage over others. I think we had a good start today but we have implemented some changes across the sessions and we need to review those, especially on the soft tyre. The margins are very small, hopefully we can be strong come qualifying tomorrow evening. It is an interesting place, especially from day to night, it is very different. It is not an easy track and tomorrow we expect the wind to change so it will be interesting to see what happens. I think we have some work to do overnight, we are not entirely happy with the balance of the car, so we will look at amending that before the morning. The next representative session will be qualifying so we will try to get the best out of analysing FP2 this evening and push on positively.”

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DOHA, QATAR - NOVEMBER 19: Sparks fly behind Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Red Bull Racing RB16B Honda during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Qatar at Losail International Circuit on November 19, 2021 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Mario Renzi - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

AlphaTauri

A very good day for the team, with both drivers impressing. Gasly was the pick, coming home second in both sessions. He might have bolted on his soft tyres later than everyone else and thus running while the track was at its best, but even so his times were eye-catchingly good. As for Tsunoda, he put the difficulties of Brazil well and truly behind him by slotting into the top 10 in both sessions, and should be confident of a decent qualifying tomorrow.

Pierre Gasly - FP1: 1:24.160, P2; FP2: 1:23.357, P2

“It’s been a very good Friday, the best of the season so far I’d say. Inside of the car it doesn’t feel that easy, but the lap times are looking really good. I think in terms of balance we can do even better for tomorrow, so we’ll try and work on that tonight. Our target is of course to be as far up the grid as possible but we’re obviously realistic, we’re looking very competitive at the moment, so we’ll hope to be up there with McLaren and Ferrari again in quali.”

Yuki Tsunoda - FP1: 1:24.648, P5; FP2: 1:23.735, P7

“It was good out there today, with the car looking quite strong so far. We tried some different set ups to gather important data for quali and the race, which is really important, as we’re at a new circuit. The car performed well on the mediums but I struggled a bit more on the soft tyre, so we have some work to do tonight to try and improve in this area. Overall, I think it’s been a good day, we’ve just got to put it all together when it counts. Overtaking looks like it’ll be quite difficult here, so it’s going to be important to get a good starting position for the race, then we can be in a good place to score points on Sunday.”

Jonathan Eddolls, Chief Race Engineer

“Coming to a new track always means there is a lot to cover on a Friday. So, we had a busy run plan across both cars, with the main aim being to understand the circuit and therefore the set up requirements, tyres and aero configuration. The process is made harder with FP1 happening during the hottest part of the day and FP2 during the early evening, with around 15°C difference in track temperatures across the sessions. Having said that, we were able to cover our run plans and all test items, so far we’re looking competitive, particularly over the short runs, which were very good for both drivers. The longer runs were a bit more of a challenge for the tyres, so for sure there is some work to do for tomorrow, but we have captured a lot of good data for analysis tonight and we have a great team of engineers who will work relentlessly to extract the maximum performance. I am confident that we can still improve the car overnight and show a good performance in qualifying tomorrow.”

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DOHA, QATAR - NOVEMBER 19: Yuki Tsunoda of Scuderia AlphaTauri and Japan during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Qatar at Losail International Circuit on November 19, 2021 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Peter Fox/Getty Images)

Ferrari

The day started well for the Scuderia, with both drivers looking quick and closely matching each other for pace. But they fell down the order in the evening gloom, with Leclerc complaining of understeer and Sainz sent wide as he jostled for track position. With McLaren’s Norris looking quick, Ferrari might need to find a few tenths overnight to stay ahead of their rivals tomorrow.

Charles Leclerc - FP1: 1:24.790, P7; FP2: 1:24.095, P13

"I really like the track here at Loisal, it is great. It’s always interesting to mix things up and see a new venue on the calendar.

"We put in a good number of laps across our two cars today, getting to know the characteristics of the circuit and gathering as much data as possible. Our main focus will probably be on qualifying preparation because our long-runs were already quite good.

"What will be key is balancing the first and last sectors, due to tyre overheating that is caused by the high temperatures here."

Carlos Sainz - FP1: 1:24.713, P6; FP2: 1:24.033, P10

"The first day on an unknown track is always exciting and challenging, as it’s obviously a completely new experience. To be honest, I think this track has surprised everyone with how fast it is and the speed we are doing around the corners. That translates into having to work harder on the set-ups we originally had in mind and having to adapt throughout the day.

"We are not exactly where we want to be, so we need to improve the car overnight because the competition is very tight. I have full confidence that we can manage it and hopefully tomorrow we will be further up the order."

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DOHA, QATAR - NOVEMBER 19: Carlos Sainz of Spain driving the (55) Scuderia Ferrari SF21 makes a pitstop during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Qatar at Losail International Circuit on November 19, 2021 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Mario Renzi - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

McLaren

A mixed bag for McLaren in Qatar, with both drivers there or thereabouts in FP1. Despite rarely showing their true hand on a Friday, with FP2 being more representative than Saturday’s FP3 will be, it was no surprise to see Norris right up there on the timing sheets. Ricciardo couldn’t follow suit but he often takes slightly longer to get going than his team mate, so it will be interesting to see if he makes strides forward tomorrow.

Daniel Ricciardo - FP1: 1:25.291, P11; FP2: 1:24.135, P14

“This track’s fun. The initial impressions are that it’s good with it being flowing and pretty fast. We didn’t really progress in the second session. We changed the car a bit to experiment with a few things, but it was probably two steps off, so we’ve still got a bit to find there. Lando was more promising and we can learn a bit from that car. I was a bit off in the first sector so got some work to do there – but I’m not concerned, just a few things to look into tonight. Competitiveness-wise, I think Ferrari will be there tomorrow and Alpha Tauri looked quick. Hopefully we can find a bit more for Saturday.”

Lando Norris - FP1: 1:25.215, P10; FP2: 1:23.632, P5

“A good start to the weekend. In a way, more positive than we were expecting, I think because of the type of track layout we have here. I think we were anticipating a few more problems and possibly difficulties than we had. I think there are still some weaknesses we’ve got to work on, but on the whole a solid start. I like the track, it’s good fun, especially being a night session as well – we haven’t had a night session in quite a while. It’s fast, it’s high-speed and it’s a good challenge."

Andrea Stella, Racing Director

“Overall, we’re relatively happy after our first day in Qatar. The track is fast, flowing and the drivers are enjoying it. Losail provides some challenges from a car set-up point of view, and because some of the kerbs are very aggressive. Some teams have experienced problems with those, us included, and we’ll try to address that overnight. We have plenty of analysis to do before tomorrow, but we’re looking forward to qualifying and the race. Several cars seem to be in good shape, but we’re eager to have a strong showing here.”

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DOHA, QATAR - NOVEMBER 19: Lando Norris of Great Britain and McLaren F1 prepares to drive in the garage during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Qatar at Losail International Circuit on November 19, 2021 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Dan Istitene - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Aston Martin

Both drivers suffered issues in FP1, with Stroll getting the worst of the reliability when his brake-by-wire system seemingly failed. That cost the Canadian track time, but it didn’t show as he looked very quick in FP2 once the sun went down. As for Vettel, a loose item in his cockpit around his feet derailed his longer runs at the end of FP1, and he was equally unimpressed with traffic in the form of old rival Hamilton in FP2.

Sebastian Vettel – FP1: 1:25.328, P12; FP2: 1:24.020, P9

“Today was okay from my perspective, but at this stage it is difficult to understand where we are because everyone is still getting to grips with the track. It takes some time to focus and find your rhythm, but overall this is a very fun circuit to drive. I was not so happy with our pace over one lap and traffic made it difficult to get clean laps, but we have some time in FP3 to work on that further. Tomorrow, everyone will be aiming for the perfect lap in qualifying, but only some will achieve it. I am hoping to be one of them because, with it being so difficult to overtake, securing a good position on the grid will play a major part in our final result.”

Lance Stroll - FP1: 1:26.712, P19; FP2: 1:23.705, P6

“The track has a very good flow and that makes it very enjoyable. I had a lot of fun today. The hydraulics issue we experienced in FP1 did not cost us too much track time and for the second session the car felt really good. Saturday is another day but I have high hopes for a competitive weekend. Progressing through to Q3 is definitely the objective. If we can qualify well, I think we will be strong in the race too.”

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DOHA, QATAR - NOVEMBER 19: Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Aston Martin F1 Team prepares to drive in the garage during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Qatar at Losail International Circuit on November 19, 2021 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Dan Istitene - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Alpine

Alpine once again ran a converse strategy to everyone else in FP1, opting to bolt on the soft trye while the track was dusty at the start of the session. As such their times weren’t representative – so it was interesting to see what they managed in the cooler conditions. The answer was just outside the top 10 for both drivers, which, in a tight midfield, is not to be sniffed at on the first day of running here.

WATCH: Ride onboard with Alonso for a lap of Losail as F1 cars hit the Qatar track for the first time

Esteban Ocon - FP1: 1:24.972, P9; FP2: 1:24.041, P11

“It was a fun Friday discovering this new track. It had some very good surprises for many reasons, so it’s been an enjoyable day. The track was high grip and it was very fast and flowing, which was awesome to drive. It brings challenges of places like Sepang and Istanbul rolled into one and that was really good fun to experience. It’s challenging for all of us to learn a new track, but the team and I prepared very well so we could be ready straight away. It’s about getting the car into the right set-up, finding improvements run by run and seeing what ideas on the car to improve. All in all, it’s been a productive one for us today and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do in qualifying.”

Fernando Alonso - FP1: 1:25.905, P17; FP2: 1:24.056, P12

“The circuit is really great to drive. I love the layout and how the combination of corners really gives you the feeling and ability to maximise the potential in a Formula 1 car. I was enjoying every lap, so it was a fun Friday. The grip levels were good today especially in FP2 and the car also felt solid in both sessions. We’ll see what we can do tomorrow and we need to evaluate everything overnight but our plan will be to target Q3 in qualifying tomorrow. Overall, a happy day for a happy man.”

Alan Permane, Sporting Director

“Firstly, it’s always good to come to new places like here in Qatar – we’ve received a warm welcome and the facilities are first class. The early impressions of this circuit are very positive with both Esteban and Fernando commenting on how enjoyable it is to drive with its nice flow and high-speed corners. Drivers enjoy tracks which have challenging, near flat-out corners and this place has that to offer throughout.

"We did our homework on data simulations and we arrived here well prepared. Putting that preparation into practice on track to see where we’re at on the timesheets is always rewarding – especially when everything works pretty much to plan. The main aim for today was to get into our programme as fast as possible and that meant having both drivers up to speed quickly before doing our normal Friday work, which is a balance between shaping the car set up, getting everything dialled in and also learning the tyres within the two hours on-track. We’ve finished today reasonably happy but, as always, there’s work to do to refine the set-up and find more performance ahead of qualifying tomorrow. We’ve started to build a picture on race strategy too, so we’re in a good position ready for the rest of the weekend.”

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DOHA, QATAR - NOVEMBER 19: Fernando Alonso of Spain driving the (14) Alpine A521 Renault during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Qatar at Losail International Circuit on November 19, 2021 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Alfa Romeo

Both drivers ran wide on occasion as they struggled at first for grip on the dusty track. But once up to speed, they looked to have the beating of perennial rivals Williams in the representative evening conditions. Can they find any more pace tomorrow? It might be tricky with the midfield so tight, but both drivers will want to go out with a bang and only have three weekends left to make their mark this season.

READ MORE: Vasseur explains why Zhou is the ‘right choice’ for Alfa Romeo – and reveals how he and Giovinazzi have cleared the air

Kimi Raikkonen - FP1: 1:25.828, P15; FP2: 1:24.631, P15

“The conditions were not bad, actually better than we expected. We had worse situations in the past, in places like Bahrain, where the wind and the dust made it really hard on Friday, so this was pretty okay. We were able to do a good amount of laps, so hopefully we can use the data to improve ahead of tomorrow. Qualifying will be close, we will see what we get when the time comes.”

Antonio Giovinazzi - FP1: 1:25.757, P14; FP2: 1:25.072, P17

“It was a good first experience driving here. I was really surprised by the amount of grip, already in FP1. The track is really nice, really fast and driving it is enjoyable. We had a good FP1 today, but found some traffic during our qualifying simulations in FP2. This will be a challenge tomorrow, as there’s not much space to let someone through with all these high-speed corners. Qualifying will be really important, but we have another session tomorrow to try new things and get better.”

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DOHA, QATAR - NOVEMBER 19: Antonio Giovinazzi of Italy and Alfa Romeo Racing prepares to drive in the garage during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Qatar at Losail International Circuit on November 19, 2021 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Dan Istitene - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Williams

The team were hoping this track might suit them more than Interlagos did, and certainly that looked to be the case early on when Latifi managed to wind up 13th. But both drivers started to drop back in the evening session, the exposed nature of the track and resulting crosswinds not helping their car, which has been temperamental in those conditions all season.

George Russell – FP1: 1:25.871, P16; FP2: 1:24.954, P16

"I enjoyed it out there today. It’s a really fun circuit to drive and it’s very fast, probably faster than we expected. The tyre degradation seems relatively low which allowed us to push pretty hard, which is what we all want as drivers from a track. What that means for actual racing on Sunday I’m not too sure as it didn’t seem the easiest to overtake out there. However, the conditions look like they will change tomorrow which will hopefully be favourable but even if they don’t, we will adapt to the situation. The kerbs here are also pretty brutal given the speeds we are doing so there is going to have to be an element of compromise and resistance to going over the limit, as it is not only slower but could possibly damage the car. Overall though, it was a fun day."

Nicholas Latifi - FP1: 1:25.688, P13; FP2: 1:25.209, P18

"I was expecting Losail International Circuit to be fun after driving it on the simulator and it did not disappoint! It’s really fast and flowing with not many tight corners, which is great for these current Formula One cars and I think it suits our own car’s characteristics well. It did feel like we were going well out there, however that wasn’t reflected on the timing screens, so we’ll look at the data we collected tonight and find the areas in which we can make a step up for tomorrow. A brand new circuit brings plenty of variables as we head into Qualifying, but every team will be in the same position, so we’ll do our best to navigate those challenges."

Dave Robson, Head of Vehicle Performance

"Learning another new track was an enjoyable experience and the Losail International Circuit lived up to expectations. The flowing high-speed corners are demanding but interesting and are liked by the drivers.

"The evening FP2 session was very useful for getting the car ready for tomorrow’s qualifying session. We are reasonably happy with where we got to with the car balance and tyre performance, and although there are a few things to get on top of tonight, we are fairly pleased with our start to the weekend.

"The FP3 session tomorrow will be hot and probably not very representative of the conditions in qualifying. We will use the session to finalise a few parts of the car specification, but the key areas will be fixed based on today’s experience. There will still be some uncertainty going into qualifying and the race and so we are looking forward to adapting to the situation as it unfolds and making the very most of the circumstances."

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DOHA, QATAR - NOVEMBER 19: George Russell of Great Britain driving the (63) Williams Racing FW43B Mercedes during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Qatar at Losail International Circuit on November 19, 2021 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)

Haas

Mazepin ran wide at the start of FP1, and then saw his session curtailed by floor damage. Worse was to come for the rookie, as that damage required a chassis change, meaning he had to sit out of FP2 entirely and thus will have no representative running under the lights before qualifying tomorrow. As for Schumacher, he had the biggest moment of FP1 when he locked up and ran straight on through the gravel, but other than that, managed plenty of exploratory laps out there.

Mick Schumacher – FP1: 1:26.699, P18; FP2: 1:25.575, P19

“I haven’t done any simulator work so I went in with no expectations really. Overall, it was very fun, I enjoyed it. The track is very fast, that was probably not as expected. It feels pretty good, I think it’s a nice track to perform qualifying on, probably for racing it’s going to be a bit more difficult but I’m ready to be surprised.”

Nikita Mazepin – FP1: 1:27.500, P20; FP2: Did not take part

“I think it’s the fastest circuit I can remember visiting this year in terms of almost no slow corners here, which definitely makes it an interesting challenge. The surface is very smooth which makes it an enjoyable experience and this track is all about what Formula 1 cars bring. I felt something come very close to the bottom of my car. It’s frustrating as I didn’t leave the circuit, I was inside the track limits at the moment it happened, so I think these kerbs aren’t very nice to all the cars. In particular, it hit my car at the wrong angle and it makes for a very careful session and race from now on. I think that the first session we do tomorrow, we will start by being inside the white lines and actually not think about the speed but be careful from the beginning – which is the priority – and then build the pushing from that point onwards.”

Guenther Steiner, Team Principal

“A little bit of a challenging FP1 for Nikita. Coming to a new track, we didn’t expect some of the challenges here - which are the kerbs, with other people experiencing damage to the floor. We took it a little bit further, having damage on the chassis and having to change it. He was on the racing line but the kerbs did the damage in FP1 and that was the day over for him. The team is changing the chassis out with the spare one and we will be ready again for tomorrow, for FP3. For Mick, FP1 and FP2 went very well learning the track and the team gaining experience on a track that none of us has been to before.”

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DOHA, QATAR - NOVEMBER 19: Mick Schumacher of Germany driving the (47) Haas F1 Team VF-21 Ferrari during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Qatar at Losail International Circuit on November 19, 2021 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Pirelli

Mario Isola, Head of F1 and Car Racing

"It was a busy couple of sessions today as the teams concentrated on learning as much as they could about Losail in the time available. There was a high degree of track evolution already during FP1, and this is a pattern we would expect to continue tomorrow. In these challenging conditions with a dirty track and high-energy corners, the initial data shows high wear on the left-front, especially for the soft compound: probably also due to the set-up used by the cars on this circuit. It will be interesting to see how that evolves as the weekend goes on. In the warmer conditions of FP1, the hard tyre worked particularly well as we expected, but in cooler and more representative conditions during FP2, the soft and the medium came into their own. As usual with a new track, there will be plenty of data analysis tonight as the teams begin to work out the weekend's qualifying and race strategy based on what they have learned today."

HIGHLIGHTS: See the first F1 running at Losail in first practice for the Qatar Grand Prix

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