What we learned from Friday’s practice at the Formula 1 Japanese Grand Prix

Max Verstappen’s key times in Friday’s two Formula 1 practice sessions at the Japanese Grand Prix proved Red Bull’s misfortune in Singapore was just a blip.

The championship leader made up for a tough weekend at Marina Bay last time out by imposing his dominance in the first practice session, clocking a time of 1:31.647 seconds to finish second, 0.6 seconds ahead of Singaporean winner Carlos Sainz, as Ferrari continued its recent resurgence. With second place. In the afternoon session.

He proceeded to claim FP2 over the other Ferrari in the afternoon, edging out Charles Leclerc by a narrow 0.3 seconds with a time of 1:30.688, while Lando Norris sat in the top three in both sessions to prove McLaren’s credentials as a podium contender in Suzuka.

Verstappen’s efforts were in stark contrast to those of his teammate Sergio Perez, whose rankings dropped compared to his teammate after being more than a second behind in both sessions.

Today’s story

Lewis Hamilton predicted the Red Bull would be strong before either car turned the wheel, suggesting Verstappen should win Sunday’s race by more than 30 seconds and praising the RB19’s characteristics around a circuit like Suzuka. The seven-time champion’s early assessment appears to have been correct, thanks to the clear advantage enjoyed by Verstappen during the first practice sessions.

Verstappen fitted the soft tires at the end of FP1 to soar to the top of the charts and then picked up where he left off at the start of FP2 to reach the top on a new set of soft tyres. Although his first round in FP2 was outpaced by Norris and then Leclerc, Verstappen responded after the opening half-hour to score the first time in the one-and-a-half minute mark of the weekend before the team’s long-term simulations that usually conclude second practice. a class.

At the conclusion of that session, both Ferraris were ranked in the top four, with former leader Leclerc good enough to finish second, while Sainz was just over two tenths behind his teammate. Norris split the two Ferraris, having found a stronger pace in the first sector than the two SF-23s in his McLaren. Despite being second best to Verstappen in the opening sector, Norris’ time in Q1 was still 0.3 seconds behind the Red Bull driver.

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Leclerc was Verstappen’s closest competitor on Friday, as Ferrari appeared to be maintaining its recent rise

Photography: Mark Sutton / Motorsport pictures

McLaren’s biggest weakness was in slow corners, especially when entering a hairpin and exiting the Casio Triangle. Although Leclerc briefly lost time in a hairpin as well, the slower entry allowed the Ferrari driver a quicker exit, allowing him to gather more momentum as he ran into the spoon bend and reversed the delta into the McLaren.

George Russell was fifth to give Mercedes a glimmer of hope amid a pair of bitter practice sessions. The team struggled during the opening practice session after exclusively exploring harder tire combinations on a track that was initially conservative to achieve the initially expected grip. Drivers were marginally happier in FP2 after being given the use of the soft tyres, although Hamilton spent the day annoyed by the lack of rear grip found on early Mercedes setups.

Perez struggled throughout training to find balance with his Red Bull RB19

Perez struggled throughout training to find balance with his Red Bull RB19

Photography: Mark Sutton / Motorsport pictures

Although the data shown to Motorsport.com showed a high level of tire degradation during practice sessions, indications are that the race will continue to two stops – although Russell noted that the amount of slip experienced on the abrasive track surface The race changes “closer to three stops at the moment.”

Fernando Alonso’s Aston Martin shadowed Russell by just over a tenth. The AMR23 lacked the balance of its rivals through the heavily laden Degner curves and was slower in the entry and mid-corner stages of the Casio Triangle – although the Spaniard’s exit was marginally stronger compared to the cars ahead of him which helped close the gap.

Assessing overall race pace was made much more difficult by the use of the prototype C2 tyre, which Pirelli said after Friday’s sessions “did not offer the potential for improvement in terms of grip that we wanted to achieve”. Furthermore, Norris, Russell and Alonso all conducted their long runs on soft tyres, which are not expected to feature in the race due to the excessive wear that occurred.

It is understood this is a result of teams looking to conserve tire sets for the rest of the weekend, given two stops are expected for the weekend. The noticeable degradation of the soft tires on those long runs also makes it very difficult to compare which teams will come out on top in the battle behind Verstappen, despite Leclerc’s overall average of 1m38.190s on averages across his representative times over the run. The long is comparable to Perez’s time of 1:38.521 seconds, although the Monaco posted three fewer laps overall.

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The gap between Red Bull drivers

On a single-lap pace, Perez was 1.022 seconds away from Verstappen’s best lap in FP2, with two-thirds of that disadvantage occurring in the first sector. The Mexican complained of balance problems throughout, the best example being his need to briefly hit the brakes in the middle of Turn 5 amid the S-curves to adjust the car. Verstappen braked a little longer into the Dunlop bend but rode the throttle before pulling the brake pedal to maintain his momentum through the long left hander. In the next stage, Verstappen had the balance to reduce his lift on the throttle to carry more speed towards Degners.

Aside from Perez's problems with Red Bull, the familiar hierarchical system in Japan has been restored

Aside from Perez’s problems with Red Bull, the familiar hierarchical system in Japan has been restored

Photography: Steve Etherington/ Motorsport pictures

While Perez was quicker midway through Degner’s second, he lost two tenths to Verstappen as the Dutchman achieved more traction out of the corner. Verstappen’s faster entry into a hairpin created a significant spike in their deltas, but, like the fortunes of Leclerc and Norris, a faster exit from a slower entry helped close the gap during the race to Spoon. Here, Perez braked later but held the pedal longer, while Verstappen maintained a more consistent speed through the left double before climbing to 130R.

Neither driver pressed the accelerator during the high-speed corner, and it was easier for Verstappen to slow the car into the right-left Casio triangle before completing his lap. Regardless, he carried more speed through the corner, cutting the gap between the two Red Bull drivers to more than a second as Perez was at full speed later.

Despite Perez’s balance issues, which sapped his confidence on the throttle throughout the lap, he was adamant that this gave the team direction in setup options overnight.

“It’s really strange at Suzuka, it’s one of the best tracks in the world to drive on but this year, it feels like the tarmac has actually broken and the cars are sliding on the surface.” George Russell

What did they say

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Verstappen: “Yes, it felt really good today. From the first lap, the car was fun to drive again. And yeah, it looks like we had a strong day. On the short distances, the long distances… there’s a lot of degradation on this track, so it’ll be Very tough on the tires in the race. But yeah, it’s been a good start so far to the weekend. Things seem to be a bit tight behind me, Ferrari and McLaren are close. So we’ll have a ‘See. But I think at the end of the day, we’re just focusing on ourselves and trying to improve our performance. “Then if we do that, I’m confident we can fight for first place.”

Leclerc: He added: “It seems that we are a little closer to our competitors than expected, so it was a positive day overall. For my part, we tried some different things in the car to make me feel more comfortable, which is good.” “I look forward to confirming that feeling tomorrow.”

Contact: “It’s been a half-baked day, to be honest. Red Bull is back to normal, which I don’t think is a huge surprise. For many, they seem very, very fast. We’re not that far away from that.” P2. I think there’s two tenths in it. So it will be a good battle between Ferrari and Lando. But also, you have cars like Alex there as you see often, in qualifying. There seems to be a huge amount of tire degradation. It’s really weird at Suzuka, it’s one of the best tracks in the world to drive on but this year, it’s like the tarmac has actually been destroyed and the cars are sliding on top of the surface. So it’s given a weird feeling to “To some extent for all drivers, this contributes to tire deterioration.”

Can anyone take the fight against Verstappen and Red Bull at Suzuka?

Can anyone take the fight against Verstappen and Red Bull at Suzuka?

Photography: Andy Hone / Motorsport pictures

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