Alonso tops wet Australian GP second practice

Fernando Alonso (ESP) Aston Martin F1 Team AMR23. 31.03.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 3, Australian Grand Prix, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Practice Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Moy / XPB Images
© XPB 

Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso set an early time in second practice at Albert Park Circuit, which ended up being the best of the afternoon once the rain arrived to make it a wet session.

Charles Leclerc was second quickest ahead of Max Verstappen, with George Russell fourth ahead of Sergio Perez, but the times and the order meant little given the inclement conditions.

Several drivers were caught out by the wet track, but despite a few slides and run-offs no one suffered any serious mishaps.

However Logan Sargeant was unable to head out, after having earlier suffered an electrical failure on the Williams at the end of FP1 which had triggered a red flag and an early finish to that session.

For the third race weekend of the season, Formula 1 was back in a land down under - but the weather was not what many would have been expecting in Australia, with a very cool and breezy afternoon and an overcast sky.

Oscar Piastri (AUS) McLaren MCL60. 31.03.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 3, Australian Grand Prix, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Practice Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Coates / XPB Images

Rain had already made a brief appearance in the interval since first practice concluded early under a red flag after Logan Sargeant's Williams suffered an electrical failure. The FW45 was still under repair as the lights went out at the end of pit lane to get FP2 underway.

Wary of the threat of more rain - George Russell immediately reported moisture in the air when he headed out in the Mercedes - everyone was keen to get some track time and swiftly headed out. Fernando Alonso set the early pace for Aston Martin with a time of 1:18.887s, eight tenths ahead of Carlos Sainz and Max Verstappen. The Red Bull had topped the earlier times, but Verstappen had gone for a spin later in the session and flat-spotted his tyres meaning he had been unable to improve further, allowing Lewis Hamilton to get within half a second of his time, ahead of Sergio Perez.

Soon after practice resumed on Friday, Perez was setting purple sectors and looking set to go top when he hit traffic. It was proving to be a perennial problem today at Albert Park Circuit, which hadn't been helped by a brief GPS system failure resulting in a red flag midway through FP1. On this occasion Perez' lap fell foul of the dawdling Alfa Romeo of Zhou Guanyu, while Sainz nearly ended up running into the back of Verstappen on his own lap. "Mate, I didn't know he was on a lap!" the Dutchman complained to his race engineer over the Red Bull team radio.

In the meantime, Charles Leclerc had gone second fastest for Ferrari while Russell slotted in between Verstappen and Sainz for fourth. With umbrellas going up in the grandstand and fans donning ponchos for good measure, many drivers soon opted to come back to pit lane for now. The light rain continued to pick up and became more of a concern for the drivers, although Haas' Kevin Magnussen was contrary and stayed out. Alonso was also back on track, but he quickly ran wide at the wet first corner when he tried to push on soft tyres.

Lando Norris (GBR) McLaren MCL60 runs wide. 31.03.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 3, Australian Grand Prix, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Practice Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Moy / XPB Images

This initial spell of rain quickly passed, prompting drivers including Lando Norris, Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly to venture back out. All had to be especially careful about turn 1, which had got thoroughly soaked by the passing shower, with Norris the latest to take to the grass going through that sector in the McLaren. Lance Stroll also had a close shave in turns 9 and 10 when he ventured out in the Aston Martin, his wake even disturbing the camera mounted on the barrier in the process.

As the dark clouds continued to loom and the radar showed more rain incoming, the enthusiasm of all drivers to continue notably declined and everyone headed back in. When Russell returned to the track he took the opportunity to get a first taste of the 2023 intermediates on an installation lap, but the track was not really wet enough for them. Conversely Ferrari were confident enough to send their drivers back out on softs, only to have Sainz report back that it was now too wet for softs. Leclerc concurred by stating "There is no point driving like this". Even on pit lane, opinion was divided with many team personnel still in short-sleeved shirts while Toto Wolff had slipped on a hooded raincoat as he perched on the pit wall.

Hamilton, Gasly and Ocon all headed out on the inters and by now there was a definite hint of spray being thrown up by the tyres. Once again they were on sighting runs rather than serious laps. Halfway through the session, Alonso's early benchmark was still top of the timesheets followed by Leclerc, Verstappen, Russell, Sainz, Ocon, Perez and Norris, with Nico Hulkenberg ninth quickest ahead of Gasly. Only Sargeant had been unable to head out to post a time, his car still under repair in the Williams garage.

Toto Wolff (GER) Mercedes AMG F1 Shareholder and Executive Director. 31.03.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 3, Australian Grand Prix, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Practice Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Batchelor / XPB Images

By now, even though the precipitation was still little more than a firm drizzle, it had managed to make the track properly wet. There was no longer any chance that it would dry up before the end of the session. Sainz, Leclerc and Magnussen all headed out on inters to collect data in case the conditions were the same again tomorrow for qualifying. Verstappen was also out, helpfully confirming that it was, indeed, raining out there - just in case no one had picked up on that vital bit of information.

Stroll had another scare, suffering a snap of oversteer that he did well to control as he shot across the track and onto the grass, just missing the barrier. It was a useful reminder of how tricky a street circuit can be, even in the mildest sort of inclement conditions. Local boy Oscar Piastri was also getting his first taste of the McLaren in the rain, with the cameras mounted on the MCL60 showing rain streaming down, and even he was struggling not to lock up and slide around.

The earlier hint of spray had now blossomed to full plumes of water being kicked up into the air by the cars, and the pit crew teams now completed a swift attire change to full wet weather wear for the final quarter of an hour of the session. Cars continued to head out for some data gathering, but Hamilton - who just 24 hours earlier had been hoping for rain this weekend - was the latest to get sideways and promptly decided that this was quite enough was enough for the day. Magnussen ran over the kerbs on his latest run and splashed through the puddles like a schoolchild in wellies.

With the end in sight, the contrarian rain finally stopped falling, but too late for conditions to improve to allow anyone to set any significant times. Already the teams were looking forward to Saturday morning and final practice, hopefully without the distractions of red flag stoppages and rain falling. But then again, in F1, anything can happen - and usually does.

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