Newly-crowned champion Verstappen back behind the wheel as post-season test begins at Abu Dhabi

By Balazs Szabo on

Just two days after the thrilling season finale at Abu Dhabu that saw Max Verstappen grab the world championship title following a flawless performance during the record-breaking 22-race season, teams and drivers are back in action as attention starts to turn towards 2022.

Formula One’s tyre supplier Pirelli is conducting a two-day evaluation of its new 18-inch wheels that will debut next season, with all the teams bar Williams fielding one mule car. Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton is one of four drivers on the 2022 Formula 1 grid who will be absent from this week’s post-season Pirelli tyre test. Nikita Mazepin is also missing as he is still self-isolating after his Covid-19 infection that forced him to skip the season finale at Abu Dhabi.

Formula E champion De Vries topped the first day of the F1 post-season Abu Dhabi test as newly-crowned FIA Formula One World Champion Max Verstappen was back on track at the Yas Marina Circuit less than 48 hours after the season-deciding race, completing 123 laps on next year’s tyres.

“It felt good to be back behind the wheel and it was good to get a feel for the new tyres,” started the Dutchman. Everything went smoothly and there were no major shocks around the tyres, which is always positive. Everything changes next year and the cars will be very different, so it’s good to have initial information about the tyres.

“It was a good day today at the end of a very long but ultimately massively rewarding season and now I’m very much looking forward to some time away from the racetrack,” said the 2021 F1 champion.

Scuderia Ferrari Mission Winnow completed 306 laps, equivalent to almost six times the distance of last Sunday’s Grand Prix, during the first of two days of testing at Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina circuit. The main task of the day was evaluating the 18 inch tyres to be used as from next season.

Charles Leclerc was the first to drive the car on 18 inch wheels, covering 87 laps, his last of this long season. “It’s useful to continue to get an understanding of the new size of tyre, which is bigger than those we used to the end of this season,” he said. “The wheels are very big and the feeling through the wheel is quite different. The team has acquired plenty of data, which will be useful in preparing the 2022 car. Personally, today helped me learn more about these tyres, even though I doubt the feeling from this car will be the same as those from next year’s one, given that it will be conceptually very different.”

In the afternoon, Robert Shwartzman drove. Having finished second in the Formula 2 championship at the weekend, the Ferrari Driver Academy student replaced Fuoco in the SF21, doing 73 laps. It was the Russian’s third drive this year in a Ferrari Formula 1 car, but it was the first time he had driven the current car. “I drove the Scuderia F1 car for the second half of the day, which I really enjoyed a lot. I managed to get through the day’s workplan with the team despite a few red flags during the session.

“I’ve also learned a few new things compared to previous tests, such start procedures, which was also very positive for me. Overall I was quite consistent with the race runs and that was one of the main targets. A big thank you to the Scuderia for this opportunity, I’m really looking forward to continuing working with them and hopefully I will get more opportunities to drive the car in the future.”

Driving for Williams, Logan Sargeant said: “What an incredible first day in a Formula One car; it was everything I expected and more. I want to start by saying a massive thank you to Williams, as that was the experience of a lifetime. The team did a great job preparing me for today and giving me the confidence to go out there, enjoy it and do the best I could.

“We got through the run plan and I really progressed a lot throughout the test. The first couple of runs felt unbelievable with the amount of grip and power the car has, but I got used to it fairly quickly and felt comfortable by the end of the day. It’s definitely a massive step up from the FIA Formula 2 and FIA Formula 3 cars; the brake performance is much better and there’s a lot more downforce. The stopping power was like nothing I’ve felt before! The more you drive, the more you learn and the more pace you find, so I was happy with the lap times I was putting in by the time we finished today,” concluded the American.

Red Bull junior Liam Lawson made his F1 test debut in Abu Dhabi for AlphaTauri, completing a total of 125 laps with his best being a 1m24.517.

Commenting on his day, the New-Zealander said: “What an amazing day, it’s incredible how unbelievably fast these cars are. I’ve obviously driven in the simulator before and when I’m there I always think that there’s no way that the car can actually be that quick in real life, but it really is. I want to say a huge thank you to Red Bull, Dr Marko and everyone that has made it possible to be here driving for Scuderia AlphaTauri today.

“This has been something that I’ve been dreaming about since I was a kid so it’s just incredible and I’m really, really happy. I was definitely nervous pulling out of the garage for the first time, I tried not to show it, but I definitely felt it. It took me a little while to get to full throttle but when I did I thought ‘holy moly that’s a lot of power!’ The biggest difference is just the downforce, there’s significantly more than anything I’m used to. We worked on a lot of different things in the run plan today, both short and long runs with different tyres and one thing that was really cool and new to me was the live data.

“The ability to have the team update me as I’m out on track was really interesting, although you couldn’t make a mistake without them knowing! Getting feedback from Yuki too was also really great, we’ve been teammates before, so it was good to get his understandings and learnings and it was nice to be back driving with him again. I really didn’t want to get out of the car today, it’s been amazing to get my first taste of F1,” concluded Lawson.

IndyCar star Pato O’Ward made his F1 debut with Williams while newly-crowned Formula 2 champion Oscar Piastri got behind the wheel of Alpine’s 2021 car.

Former Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas made his debut for Alfa Romeo after being given permission to drive for his new team by his former employee. The Finn was 12th in the order, racking up a total of 127 laps.

At Aston Martin, Lance Stroll was behind the wheel of the team’s mule car, testing the 18-inch Pirelli tyres. The Silverstone-based team’s simulator driver Nick Yelloly took part in the Young Driver test, taking 7th.

“It was great to get through all we needed over the day, and yes, I have a bit of a sore neck now! Really good correlation runs between the car and the sim and test items for the ‘22 car with all the rule changes, so all-in-all, a very good day,” concluded Yelloly.

The Young Driver Test came to an end today, but teams will be back on track for the second day of the Pirelli 18-inch tyre test with only Williams absent from the action.