Ferrari swept Friday in practice for the 2022 Formula 1 United States Grand Prix, but the unusual circumstances of both sessions provided little information to predict how everyone would arrive at Sunday’s race.
However, they let F1 enjoy the young talent competing in other categories and also gave teams the opportunity to understand a critical factor for the upcoming 2023 season.
This is what we have learned from the first tests at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin.
Summary of the Friday F1 session of the US GP, practice in Austin
Carlos Sainz was fastest in FP1 after overtaking newly crowned 2022 world champion Max Verstappen after the hour-long session was stopped early by Antonio Giovinazzi’s crash.
The Italian was taking Kevin Magnussen’s place at Haas , as his name continues to appear on the list of possible replacements for Mick Schumacher for 2023. Giovinazzi joined four F1 rookies: Logan Sargeant (with Williams), Robert Shwartzman (with Ferrari) , the Spanish Alex Palou (with McLaren) and Theo Pourchaire (with Alfa Romeo), with whom their teams met part of the requirement that each team must give two FP1 this year to rookie or inexperienced drivers.
Giovinazzi lost the rear of the Haas F1 Team going through the long right-hand Turn 5 in the middle of the exciting Sector 1 of Austin’s ‘Esses’ complex, blown by a gust of wind when not on a fast lap.
Although he was able to continue after initially getting stuck in the barriers, which brought FP1 to a red-flag stop for four minutes, Giovinazzi was unable to get back on track as his car’s clutch had overheated and Haas feared that the gearbox was also damaged.
After that, Verstappen moved into the lead before Sainz unseated him, and Red Bull never regained the lead despite completing two final attacks on soft tyres. Lewis Hamilton placed the updated Mercedes W13 in third position, with the team reckoning its 2023-focused update has delivered results that “seem to be in line with expectations”, according to the team’s director of track engineering Andrew Shovlin .
Although all the 2022 F1 starters took part in FP2 – Magnussen , Nicholas Latifi, Charles Leclerc, Daniel Ricciardo and Valtteri Bottas returned to their cars – that session was even more unusual.
This was because he was basically dedicated to testing the 2023 Pirelli tires with the unmarked compounds from the Italian manufacturer’s toughest range for next year.
This is not a complete redesign, but rather minor tweaks, with the key aim of eliminating the understeer in low-speed corners that has been criticized by drivers of the 2022 tyres.
Early in the session, Leclerc, Bottas and Ricciardo used the 35 minutes allocated to drivers who had missed FP1 to catch up in Austin on regular tyres. Neither Haas nor Williams took advantage of that option, who took out Magnussen and Latifi only with 2023 tires in FP2.
Ricciardo and Bottas led on the 2022 medium tires before Leclerc overtook them on the softs. Then, switching compounds, Leclerc also led on mediums – his best time was a 1m36.810s which beat Sainz’s 1m36.857s on softs in FP1 by 0.047s.
Leclerc then did a five-lap high-fuel run, also on medium tyres, during which Bottas overtook Ricciardo on softs. Bottas’ best time was 0.715s slower than Leclerc’s, and Ricciardo was 0.102s further back.
The rest had to complete a test with the Pirelli 2023 in FP2. It was a total of 26 laps maximum for each car, divided into two batches of five laps and two batches of eight.
The five-lap stints were considered “performance” evaluations, with the drivers having to push themselves for three laps between their run-out and pit laps. They were run with fuel loads of 20kg per car, while the longest runs were run with tanks filled to the limit, with a total of 100kg of fuel. No taper adjustments were allowed between runs.
Sainz led with the fastest time on the prototype tyres, a 1m38.232s, followed by Mick Schumacher, Lando Norris, Verstappen and Hamilton . Pierre Gasly and Sergio Pérez closed out a top 10 that made no sense given the different circumstances of the three main drivers using the softer 2022 tires and due to the general “test” nature of that session.
As such, the two prototype compounds were theoretically given to the drivers “blind”, but, as we will explain here later, several knew what tires they were using.
Two things stood out in FP2. The first was the slippage of many drivers with the prototype tire, which had the added factor that it only heated to 50°C in the tire blankets instead of the usual 70°C, which until the end of 2021 was 100° C (for the front ones) and 80°C (for the rear ones).
That heralds a change in the regulations for 2023, before the thermal blankets of the tires are eliminated in 2024.
Fernando Alonso suffered from skid scares in Turns 1 and 11, while Hamilton and Norris had to battle oversteer in the penultimate corner, which sent them into the exit curbs and suffering harsh rebounds from their stiff ground effect chassis. Norris also had a very difficult pitlane entry during the opening stages of FP2.
Low tire temperatures caused the drivers to skid especially on the out laps, but after one lap they found themselves in much more normal situations. The hot Texan sun – the mercury reached 31°C in the air and 37°C on the track during FP2 – would help that, but it suggests drivers will struggle in the coming years in cooler races.
The other important aspect was the boring end of the long 90-minute session, in which only Leclerc, Bottas and Ricciardo drove for the last 20 minutes, as the rest had finished their 26 laps and had pitted. The three of them finished with the highest lap total due to running on the 2022 compounds and putting in 37, 37 and 40 laps respectively.
There was also confusion regarding the use of DRS in FP2, as the activation system was deactivated after 41 minutes at Pirelli’s request. In theory the DRS should have been disabled from the start, so the fact that it wasn’t could have altered the results of the 2023 tire test, as the expectations were that neither team would use it…
In fact, those tests will only take place here and at the Mexican GP because:
1) The teams have rejected Pirelli’s request to do test days during the season with the new tires because at this stage of the year they have a lot of mileage on their parts. Y…
2) Because the test of the softer compounds of 2023 could not take place as planned at the Japanese GP due to the rain that Friday. That will finally be done next week at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City .
What do the drivers think of Pirelli tires for F1 2023?
Sebastian Vettel: “The differences in balance of the car with the 2023 tires was mainly because we started with lower temperature blankets. The heating is quite low, so it takes quite a long time. That was the biggest difference. Then I used the compound harder, so I was skidding quite a bit and slower.
Max Verstappen: “We knew FP2 was going to be different and I tried the C1 tyre, which is probably not the best for this track. It was hard to get good grip on that compound. But at least we completed the programme.”
Lewis Hamilton: “It’s kind of a fun experiment, to be honest, just going out there and not knowing what to expect. And there’s always a different balance, the tires react differently every time you go out when you’re trying something new. So sometimes the Front tires are stronger, and sometimes you can feel it in the low-speed corners, sometimes in the corner entry or in the middle of it, or sometimes in the traction or in the support at high speed.
“It’s interesting. When you try to feel what the difference is between tires and you try to store what those differences are. When you arrive, you have to write them all down. And when you do a blind test, you hope that your feeling is correct, but you have to say the what do you feel”.
“You couldn’t go out there and push because the tires weren’t at their best temperature. So you just have to build up and build up and build up and try your luck.”
What the Pirelli test means for the rest of the United States GP and for F1 2023
The fact that FP2 was essentially dedicated to testing the 2023 tires meant that teams were forced to test qualifying simulation runs and data collection from the first long runs in FP1.
That was similar to what they have to do on sprint race weekends, and the same is expected in FP3 this Saturday, which at least allows extra time to adjust set-ups ahead of qualifying and the race.
Austin FP3 starts at 14:00 local time, which is the same as the race on Sunday. That means the teams can directly compare conditions, as the weather for both days is forecast to be sunny and hit 31C once again. The stronger wind expected on race day could be a major factor unbalancing the cars and therefore increasing tire wear, leading to more spin.
The teams’ set-up work had an extra dimension in 2022, as Austin is the bumpiest track yet for the new ground effect cars.
Although most of the first sector and turns 12, 13, 14 and 15 have been resurfaced, the low ride heights required to be fast with these cars mean that they roll very low over the remaining potholes and therefore touch background in an exaggerated way in some points.
Getting it right with the bumps this weekend is seen as so crucial that Verstappen, who normally doesn’t bother to take walks around the track before practice, wanted to complete the 3.42- mile circuit on foot. to judge the potential for major shocks to your body.
An added bonus, he wryly noted, was that “it also helped take the weight off the steaks I had eaten.”
Motorsport.com witnessed the ‘Esses’ scares of several drivers in FP1.
The Williams cars struggled with the wind – as they often do due to that car’s inherent weakness in gusts – which surprised Giovinazzi. Those of Mercedes bottomed out hard at the exit of the fast turn 4 to the right, while the Haas of Mick Schumacher did the same entering turn 3.
The Red Bulls seemed to pass more smoothly, but Verstappen had to stop his car seconds before Giovinazzi’s crash at the same spot. He later changed his way of laying out that part, going through Turn 5 without lifting, as Perez and the Ferrari drivers had to do.
Some teams found the challenge of swapping low for maximum downforce easier than in previous years, thanks to resurfacing. But the difficult thing is still getting the drivers to feel comfortable to achieve the best lap times on a circuit that is still difficult. At the same time, the demanding track in Austin means that the levels of degradation seen in FP1 were high, and could be worse on Sunday as stronger winds are forecast.
The tire wear factor will of course also be critical to being able to use the 2023s in competition. And there we could consider an extra importance for one of the protagonists of the 2022 title.
This is Ferrari, which was handicapped in its battle against Red Bull largely due to its weakness in tire wear in many races in 2022.
They have suffered especially since Hungary, and Sainz told the press conference ahead of the United States GP that the sampling of the 2023 prototypes was going to be “a key part of understanding where we are failing in tire management and trying to improve next year.
You now have extra data to see how the modified compounds alter the handling balance in the F1-75 with a direct comparison to the FP1. The Scuderia will have to interpret that correctly if it wants to finally heal what is really its historic weak spot in recent seasons.
What drivers are saying about performance heading into Sunday’s United States GP
Sergio Pérez : “I think we have a bit of work to do on the balance in high speed versus low speed. We have to improve the balance a bit to be able to improve the degradation and then everything will be better.”
Verstappen : “We should go well, but let’s see in FP3 first of all how we are one lap ahead. I think the long run is a bit more of an unknown, because we all missed FP2.”
Charles Leclerc : “It’s been a positive day in general, the feeling in the car has been good from the beginning.”
George Russell : “I think the Aston Martin was very quick in FP1. If there’s anything we can learn from that then maybe that will give us a little direction. Red Bull didn’t seem as quick as it normally is so we could try to learn.” if they did something different that maybe was hindering their performance. You always have to keep your eyes open.”