The Friday in F1 Japanese GP was pretty smooth as Red Bull showed his pace once again while Ferrari and McLaren were in the chasing pack.
The familiar name of Max Verstappen was back on top on Friday of F1 Japanese GP at Suzuka with the Red Bull driver setting the pace in both FP1 and FP2 sessions. The margin trimmed from first to second, but he seemingly has comfortable pace around the circuit.
His teammate Sergio Perez did not have the new floor but found his set-up not quite right to be a bit far down. There was a good gap which was filled by the usual suspects, especially the Ferrari and McLaren pair with Mercedes popping in too.
It was the former engaging itself in the Top 4 with Carlos Sainz ahead of Charles Leclerc in FP2 but the roles reversed in FP2. The pace looked good for them as they trialed different set-ups to be ready for the F1 grand prix on Sunday but degradation will be key.
All of them complained of degradation and generally Ferrari suffers more. McLaren had Lando Norris in the Top 3 for both the sessions as he felt closest to Red Bull. The Brit was pleased with his Friday running, while Oscar Piastri hung around in the lower half of Top 10.
He also got the updates on his side but it was a learning day for him at Suzuka. Both Mercedes and Aston Martin were behind Ferrari and McLaren, with George Russell and Fernando Alonso showing Top 10 pace unlike their teammates. Lewis Hamilton noted about having lack of confidence to push due to balance.
Verstappen: “Yeah. It felt really good today. From lap one, the car was enjoyable to drive again. It seems like we had a strong day, on short runs, long runs. There’s a lot of degradation on this track, so it will be quite tough I think on tyres in the race. But so far, I think we had a good start to the weekend. It looks like it’s all a bit tight behind me, between Ferrari, McLaren, [they’re] close, so we’ll have a look. But I think at the end of the day we just focus on ourselves and try to optimise our performance. If we do that, I’m confident that we’ll fight for pole.”
Norris: “No, not really. The pace was there. The pace has been pretty good today. Probably one of the closest times we’ve been to Red Bull and the front lot on a Friday. So, I think encouraging from a pace point of view, but the car feels pretty all over the place. I kind of think it does for the majority. It’s just very low grip, I don’t think it’s just us in particular, it’s just a handful. Which, I think for us, if we can just calm it down a little bit, bring the balance together, I think we can have a good day tomorrow. But the pace is good, just difficult to drive. I doubt it’s going to be pole; the Red Bull is just doing normal Red Bull at the minute. But I think we are not far away. I would say we normally get a bit closer come lower fuel, turn the engines up, things like that. I think challenging for pole is probably quite a big task, and probably quite too far. But to try and challenge Mercedes, who maybe didn’t look quite so good today, challenge the Ferraris, and Astons, who looked pretty good. I think it’s going to be our battle for tomorrow.”
Sainz: “This weekend the gaps to our closest rivals seem very close, therefore back to where we were in previous races, with Red Bull very strong again. On my side, we’re still fine tuning the car a lot and today we tested many different set-ups to try to find the best compromise for this track. We have a lot of data to look into and tonight we’ll need to decide what settings to run tomorrow, trying to put the car in the right performance window. We have a couple of interesting days ahead of us.”
Hamilton: “It was a very challenging day for us out there. I had a lack of confidence in the car and that contributed to our struggles. It was difficult to find the right balance and we didn’t manage to get on top of it by the end of FP2. The tyres were overheating and that left us quite far off the top of the timing sheets. We know we’ve got a lot of work to do tonight to pick up the performance. I do believe we can make improvements though. We have had similar Friday’s this season and come back stronger on Saturday. We will see tomorrow if we have done so again. We will be putting in the effort this evening to give us every chance of getting ourselves higher up the order.”
Alonso: “It’s tricky to read where we are after today, but the car felt good to drive around here. Formula 1 cars are made for this type of circuit and it is always great to drive at Suzuka. We need to look at the data tonight to see what we can do ahead of the rest of the weekend. Our aim is to make Q3 in qualifying tomorrow, continuing our streak of appearances, but it looks tight with how close the field is.”
The Top 10 also had Williams’ Alexander Albon who felt good on one lap pace but struggled on race side. There was some performance shown from Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas too to be in the Top 10, but he knows others around him will get quicker.
Interestingly, the AlphaTauri pair reckon they need to find more performance as they expected to be a bit more competitive than the times showed unlike Haas, who know it will be an uphill task as the circuit doesn’t suit the characteristics of their car.
The Alpine pair, meanwhile, found itself in a similar position of being around the Top 10 as they were left with a job at hand after late crash for Pierre Gasly. The F1 lot also tested a new C2 compound but the initial feedback hasn’t been highly positive.
Albon: “It was okay today. As we expected, the low fuel pace feels good, it’s the long run pace that we are struggling with, so we need to figure that out as the deg is high. We’re going to go back to the drawing board a little bit; we might need to compromise our qualifying car a little bit for our race car, but let’s see.”
Gasly: “At this stage of the race weekend, I would say we have some work to do and I’m sure there’s more to come from us. Unfortunately, our day ended with a small off at Turn 9 right at the end of Free Practice 2. I just lost the front slightly and I could not correct it in time and that meant we slid through the gravel and into the barrier. We will learn from it and move on. In terms of today’s performance, there are a lot of things we can assess both on low and high fuel. The tyres are quite challenging and it’s something we’ll certainly aim to get on top of ready for the rest of the weekend. It’s an extremely tight pack with one or two tenths of a second splitting a lot of cars, so extracting every detail tomorrow will count.”
Tsunoda: “We’ve felt the effects of the upgrades we had brought to Singapore, but so far, we haven’t been as competitive as we would’ve liked, so we have to look through the data. I feel like there’s margin for improvement, so we’ll do some analysis tonight. I’m looking forward to qualifying tomorrow because it’s the fastest time of the weekend, and especially at Suzuka, you feel the true Formula 1 performance. I’ll enjoy it, hopefully make it into Q3, and make the fans happy.”
Bottas: “We had a positive Friday overall: it is always good fun around here in Suzuka, and I am glad to be back on track. I feel like we made some progress through our upgrades and the learnings from Singapore, getting to unlock a bit more performance from the new package and optimising the car in terms of setup. The feeling, as said, is positive, but our job doesn’t stop here: we need to keep learning from the car, analysing the data we’ve gathered today and trying to optimise it ahead of tomorrow. I reckon most of our competitors are going to get better tomorrow, but it looks like we have more solid chances to do well in qualifying than we did in Singapore.”
Magnussen: “It’s not the best track for us. For the weakness of our car, it’s the type of corners that this track has many of – those long entry and exit combined – that we don’t like so much. It’s going to be a difficult weekend but as I always say, we’ll try to do our best anyway.”
Pirelli: “There was a lot going on today in Suzuka, on a track that is always particularly challenging for the tyres. In fact, apart from the usual job list, we ran a test with a new version of one compound for 2024 and it was important to be able to work with the teams to try and gather as much data as possible. Therefore, we thank them and the drivers who collaborated fully in adding this test to their usual work programme. Over 1300 kilometres was completed on this prototype C2 and from the initial feedback it seems it is not delivering the potential for improvement in terms of the grip we wanted to achieve, but obviously, now all this information will have to be analysed carefully before reaching a final decision.”
Here’s how FP1 of F1 Japanese GP panned out
Here’s how FP2 of F1 Japanese GP panned out