AUSTIN, Texas — Former IndyCar champion Alex Palou had barely started his first live Grand Prix session at the wheel of an F1 car when he declared the McLaren’s feel and speed “insane”.
Moments later, Williams’ Logan Sargeant was complaining about the loss of tire grip like a seasoned F1 veteran.
Friday’s United States Grand Prix featured a parade of first-time drivers at the Circuit of the Americas during the first 60-minute session of the day, giving the series a glimpse of the potential future of the driver line-up.
Palou ended it with an ear to ear grin and wanted more.
“Super happy,” said the Spaniard. “It was a dream of mine.”
Palou had done a test drive in a 2021 F1 car, but driving Daniel Ricciardo’s current version at a live track exceeded his expectations. He drove it deep into the braking zones and corners to get the most out of his track time.
He too had to be careful.
“It was quick!” he said. “Then you have the traffic, you don’t want to obstruct anyone and you have the car that doesn’t belong to you. I tried to take care of the car.”
Formula 1 stipulates that all teams use reserve drivers for two training sessions this season. That left four newcomers and former F1 regular Antonio Giovinazzi behind the wheel.
All brought up the rear and finished the session in the bottom five.
“Our program today should not be quick,” said Palou. “It was to get dates.”
Palou was the biggest name in the group. After winning the IndyCar Championship in 2021, Team Arrow McLaren SP attempted to add him to their 2023 lineup. Palou was ultimately retained on his existing Chip Ganassi Racing contract when the teams couldn’t agree on a buyout.
Palou is allowed to test drive for McLaren, but he won’t join McLaren’s racing program until 2024. And although as a racer he said F1 would always be a dream, he still enjoys driving IndyCar.
“I still smile the same way at IndyCar,” said Palou. “As a racing driver who likes motorsport, F1 is exactly where you want to be. Throughout my career I realized that Formula 1 was not a place where I could really achieve anything. I went through IndyCar and we achieved that. Funnily enough, winning that IndyCar Championship gave me the opportunity to be here today.
“I enjoyed every second of it,” he said. “I’m not following it. If someone picks me up, I’ll drive. This is the ultimate dream. (But) I have a career in IndyCar, we’ve had success, and I want to win as many championships as possible.”
Sargeant shoulders a different kind of expectation and pressure. The 21-year-old could be the American driver that fans across the United States – and major sponsors – have been longing for.
Formula 1 has not had an American on the grid since Alexander Rossi in 2015 and a champion since Mario Andretti in 1978. Sargeant is currently third in the F2 feeder series.
He drove Friday in place of Nicholas Latifi, who will not be taken over by Williams for 2023. The team has yet to announce a replacement, and Sargeant could be one of them.
“You have to be sensible, stick together and do a sensible job. But it was crazy, everything was going to happen so fast and so sharply,” Sargeant said.
Alfa Romeo 2023 reserve driver Theo Pourchair drove for Valtteri Bottas. The 19-year-old Frenchman is currently second in the F2 classification. And Ferrari’s 23-year-old development driver Theo Schwartzman drove the session for Charles Leclerc.
Giovinazzi, who has 67 career F1 starts and is now a reserve driver for Ferrari, had a miserable session driving for Kevin Magnussen von Haas. The Italian had only completed a few laps when he spun and drove the car into the wall.
Ferrari led both practice sessions, led by Carlos Sainz in the first and Leclerc at the head of the second. Both are hoping to challenge Red Bull’s season champion Max Verstappen for pole position on Saturday. The previous nine races have been won from the front row.
Haas driver Mick Schumacher was reported that he needs to earn points in the last four races and not break his car if he hopes to keep his seat for 2023.
The son of seven-time ex-champion Michael Schumacher has only scored points in two races this season, not since Austria in July. But teammate Kevin Magnussen came to his defense this week.
“He’s been super hard for me to beat lately,” Magnussen said. “I think the way he’s riding now, he definitely deserves a place on the grid. But I had no influence. It is absolutely out of my hands and I can only wish him the best.”
Mercedes’ seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton said F1 and ownership group Liberty Media should have stepped in to salvage the final races of the season of the financially-struggling W Series.
The W Series ran its third season but dropped its final events in Austin and next week in Mexico City after a major investor flunked.
“There’s not really a way for these young, great drivers to even get into F1 and then there are some people who say we’re never going to see a female F1 driver,” Hamilton said. “So that’s not a good narrative to publish… With Formula 1 and Liberty doing so well, it’s not a lot for them to be able to help in that area.”
IndyCar Champion Alex Palou “super happy” with F1 practice debut at Austin originally appeared on NBCSports.com