F1 Academy: Marta García leads FP1 at COTA
Championship leader Marta García picked up where she left off three months ago and set the pace in a Spanish 1-2 in the first practice session of the 2023 F1 Academy season finale at Circuit of the Americas - leading Nerea Martí and Abbi Pulling.
Championship leader Marta García led the first practice session of the US Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas, final round of the 2023 F1 Academy season. The Prema Racing driver led a Spanish 1-2, having traded positions at the top with compatriot Nerea Martí throughout the session.
The 15 Tatuus F4 cars were out on track for the first time since mid-July, when 83 days ago the series held its penultimate race meeting. The long summer break is finally over, as the all-female series joins the F1 support package for the first time in its history - and will enjoy its first televised weekend.
At 08:15 in the morning, cars hit a very green track with no previous session being run; grip conditions were tricky straight away, as Maite Caceres spun and rejoined in the opening minute of the session, before all cars returned to the pits after an installation lap.
Nerea Martí set the first timed lap, followed by Bianca Bustamante - who has been announced as the first driver to return to F1 Academy in 2024 - and Hamda Al Qubaisi.
The Emirati is one of the three drivers to remain in contention for the title with three races to go: Hamda and Léna Bühler will be aiming to keep their chances alive after Saturday's first race.
Sauber Academy's Bühler was fourth after her first lap, ahead of Chloe Chong and Amna Al Qubaisi after the first ten minutes of session. Times, though, started to drop fast and Nerea Marti improved to 2:11.249, before trading the top spot with Léna Bühler - who was the first driver to go under the 2:11 minute mark. Hamda Al Qubaisi set fast sectors and eventually clinched the top of the timing board, with a 2:09.932.
Rodin Carlin drivers opted to save some tyres and Pulling, Edgar and Gilkes played the waiting game in the pit lane.
Despite a few lock ups, García moved up to second - but her compatriot Nerea Martí showed that she would be one to keep an eye on this weekend, by further lowering the lap reference at the top. Behind her, Hamda Al Qubaisi was joined in the top five by ART Grand Prix's Chloe Grant and Léna Bühler - all separated by thousandths of a second.
Nerea Martí improved by almost a second - and had competition from fellow Valencian Marta García, although the latter couldn't do better than third after a purple second sector.
With 20 minutes to go, Martí was leading Bühler, García, Grant and Hamda Al Qubaisi.
The tyre strategy worked out for the Carlin entries and both Jessica Edgar and Abbi Pulling were straight into the lead: the young British drivers led the pack with 10 minutes left on the clock - both having recorded laps under the 2:09 mark.
Bühler improved her time but not her position - as most drivers were out on track for one final push with 5 minutes to go. Pulling found 0.073 of a second and moved ahead of her teammate Edgar, but it would be Marta García again to top the climb the order, clocking a 2:08.000 that would remain unbeaten. Nerea Martí was on a strong lap, but a lock up in the final sector meant that the Mercantile Campos Racing driver slotted behind García.
As the chequered flag fell, Marta García set the pace in the first practice session, preceding Nerea Marti, Abbi Pulling, Jessica Edgar and Hamda Al Qubaisi - who demoted Bianca Bustamante from fifth on the final lap.
Léna Bühler couldn't find extra time in the final minutes and was seventh, ahead of Lola Lovinfosse, Chloe Chong and Chloe Grant - both convincingly in the top ten.
MP Motorsport's Emely de Heus and Amna Al Qubaisi followed, as Megan Gilkes, Carrie Schreiner and Maite Caceres rounded out the field after an incident-free opening 40 minutes of the weekend.
The second practice is scheduled for 13:55 local time, when drivers will continue to familiarize with the track - which will have more rubber down for later in the day. Tyre strategy is also expected to continue to play a part in practice, with four sets of new slicks available for the whole weekend for each driver.