In an opening session that featured one red flag break, due to an early stop on track for Aston Martin’s Felipe Drugovich standing in for the injured Lance Stroll, world champion Verstappen traded top lap times with Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz.
Sainz’s 1m33.253s dominated most of the morning, but Verstappen’s 1m32.959s beat him 35 minutes before the lunch break.
All the teams enjoyed a productive run, as Drugovich only lost a significant amount of track time due to what the team called a sensor issue related to the ECU, with the relatively stable technical regulations allowing teams get up to speed with their 2023 F1 cars.
To emphasize that point, the majority of squads completed over a large prix distance on the opening morning, mainly focused on data collection, air runs and installation work.
Verstappen, whose opening lap time was almost a full second faster than the best lap set on the opening day of last year’s Bahrain test, ended the morning almost three-tenths faster than Ferrari’s Sainz.
Williams topped the timesheets this morning with Alex Albon on 74 laps, with the Thai driver taking third place on the timesheet with 1m33.671s, ahead of Zhou Guanyu in the Alfa Romeo who was fourth.
George Russell, who was on track for the first time this morning, finished fifth for Mercedes which put the German manufacturer 1.2s off the pace.
Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-23
Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
F1 returnee Nico Hulkenberg enjoyed a strong morning for his new Haas team with sixth place, a quarter of a second from Russell, as Drugovich moved up to seventh on the times for Aston Martin.
AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda put in 46 laps in the session on his way to eighth place in the times, ahead of former teammate Pierre Gasly who reached 60 laps for Alpine.
F1 rookie Oscar Piastri started his season with 52 laps for McLaren as he finished the morning timesheet in 10th place.
Nine of the 10 teams will change drivers for the afternoon session, except for Red Bull as world champion Verstappen gets the full opening day in the RB19.
Full morning results:
|1||Max Verstappen||red bull||1’32.959||71|
|4||Zhou Guanyu||Alfa Romeo||1’33.723||67||+0.764s|
|7||Felipe Drugovich||Aston Martin||1’34.564||40||+1.605s|