The Saturday in F1 Japanese GP was a smooth run all-through as Max Verstappen stamped its authority from the McLaren pair.
After a strong Friday showing, it was expected from Red Bull’s Verstappen to take F1 Japanese GP pole on Saturday and he did so by over half a second on McLaren’s Oscar Piastri. Not even Sergio Perez could get any close to the Dutchman.
The blip in Singapore was long forgotten and the extra motivation to excel was proved by Verstappen by setting the lone 1m28s lap time. Perez couldn’t get a lap together as he has struggled on the one lap side for long but expect the race pace to be better.
For the McLaren pair of Piastri and Lando Norris, they were pleased finishing ahead of their direct rivals Ferrari and Mercedes. Both know that Verstappen will be out of reach but they will still have a go to see for how long can they chase him.
They know the real battle will from the cars behind as Charles Leclerc managed to out-qualify Carlos Sainz. The Monegasque reckoned he put in a good lap but it was not enough as the Spaniard felt he dropped back since he tried too many set-ups which didn’t work.
It was same at Mercedes where both Lewis Hamilton and George Russell did not have good one lap pace even though they felt better than Friday. They acknowledge that the gap is a bit too much for their liking, but hope the race pace is good.
Verstappen: “To be honest, the whole weekend has been really good. As soon as we put the car on the track, it’s been very enjoyable to drive, very predictable, which I think is the most important. And, yeah, lap after lap in Qualifying as well, it was getting better. I mean, I only had three new sets of tyres, so I had to be a bit careful with using them, basically. So, in Q2 I had to run the scrubbed. But then, once I put on a new set again, in the first run in Q3, it was just super nice. I mean, these high-speed corners, if the car is very well balanced and you can really push it to the limit, it’s just really enjoyable to do to drive. Regarding the post-session radio call, he told me a ’28 would be nice. I said, “don’t worry, I’m going send it,” and then he was like, “yeah, but don’t shunt the car, right?”
“I was like: “yeah, well, obviously, that’s not what I want to do.” I knew that there was still a little bit left in a few places, and that’s what I tried to tidy up, which worked out quite well. But overall, that was the aim, especially coming from Singapore. I wanted to have a really strong weekend. And of course, we know that this is the first proper opportunity to win it. So we also want to do that. Honestly, yeah, we had a bad weekend; of course then people start talking about… ah, it’s all because of the technical directives. I think they can go suck on an egg. But for my side, yeah, I was just very fired up to have a good weekend here and make sure that yeah, we were strong.”
Piastri: “I am very, very happy. You know, I think yesterday, we thought we could be in for a solid weekend. And then I think this morning we made some good changes. And the car looked quick in FP3. And I was getting more used to the track too. So yeah, very, very happy to be on the front row. Of course, the gap is a little bit or a lot bigger than I would prefer. But yeah, I’m happy to be in second. Yeah, there was a bit, I think I was about two tenths up after the first sector, but I wasn’t going to find six. So yeah, in the end, it didn’t make much of a difference. But of course, you know, when you’re up on your lap before, of course you want to keep going that way and yeah, just a little bit frustrated that I didn’t manage to improve on the second lap.
“But in the end it didn’t matter. I think yesterday and the whole weekend, just the degradation has been a lot higher than say Silverstone. Yeah, just looking at the tyre choices from everybody, clearly I would say most people are expecting more than one pit stop just from the number of… Max saved three sets of softs and the rest. Yeah, so he’s doing a four-stop tomorrow! So yeah, it’s just going to be a very different race to Silverstone from that aspect, and I think whenever you’ve got more deg, more pit stops it just increases the margin for error. It tests how well you can manage the tyres as well so it’s not as simple as just going flat out or as quick as the car will let you so yeah, that was all.”
Norris: “I mean, not a lot to talk about. I think we’re very happy as a team. Also, for myself, I’m pretty happy with the improvements we made. But I think all weekend we’ve been strong, from FP1 onwards, the car has been feeling good. We’ve made some good steps forward throughout the weekend as well. And I think that’s proved, to be ahead of Ferrari. I think we thought it’d be close with Ferrari, so to be ahead, and have two cars ahead was an even bigger bonus. But like Oscar said, I think we would have loved to have been a bit closer to Max. But it proved not to be the case. So yeah, a good day. Not bad. I wouldn’t say they were not my best laps. I think there were some very good laps but just a couple of things may be holding us back a little bit.
“But otherwise, we’re happy. I mean, if Max is leading by Turn 2 there’s not a lot you can really do. If you want to emulate Prost, Oscar, into Turn 1… I mean Ayrton Senna into Turn 1 you can do that happily! It would be lovely for me! So yeah, I think we’ll try. I think our race pace is decent. It’s definitely not going to be as good as the Red Bull here but we’ll do our best. I think just the knowledge of our general pace and competitive pace… Mercedes are always very strong on a Sunday. But I think we’ve been strong all weekend from qualifying runs but also high fuel runs. So I think we’re hoping for probably an easy race but it’s never going to be an easy race around here so like Oscar said, just with undercut powers and things like that, I’m sure there’s going be a lot going on.”
Leclerc: “It honestly felt quite good in the car but unfortunately this weekend we don’t really have the performance to do better,” Leclerc reflected. “I did honestly the best lap of the weekend in Q3, so I put everything together, but it wasn’t enough. “I think both Red Bulls are much quicker in the race… I mean quicker in high fuel. Max and Checo are much closer on the high fuel, so I expect Checo to come back. The McLarens, they are very similar to us in terms of race pace, so if we don’t overtake them at the start, it’s going to be difficult to pass them on track.”
Hamilton: “Yesterday was horrendous but [we] made some good changes overnight, and the car was feeling really good today, so I was much happier with it. Unfortunately, we are just not quick enough, [so] we just have to keep working away. We are a long way away on rear downforce so that’s why we are so slow in the first sector. The laps felt really good, but we are just one second away, which is like crazy. To close that gap for next year, at this point to still be a second down on the track like this is definitely worrying for us as a team. No. Think we are just going to struggle like everybody else. It’s going to be tough tomorrow.”
The Top 10 also had the likes of AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda and Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso where the Japanese driver felt pretty solid to make it in Q3 after not looking likely in practice. Teammate Liam Lawson just missed out in 11th in a good show as well.
But Alonso wasn’t happy with the pace as they struggled likewise Lance Stroll who was knocked out in Q1 itself. The Alpine pair breathed a sigh of relief especially Pierre Gasly, who ended up 12th and ahead of teammate Esteban Ocon after struggling in practice.
It was half and half for Haas where Kevin Magnussen made it in but Nico Hulkenberg couldn’t. For Williams’ Alexander Albon as well, he felt the tyres degraded soon for him to eke out as teammate Logan Sargeant rued his crash to be knocked out along with Alfa Romeo pair who were a bit downbeat after better practice show.
Tsunoda: “It’s incredibly special to get through to Q3 at your home Grand Prix. It was the first time in front of the Japanese fans, and the amount of support I felt in my final runs was great. I’ve never felt that kind of support from spectators. A big thank you to them, but an even bigger thanks to my team. It wasn’t easy because we struggled in Free Practice on Friday, but the team did an amazing job of finding improvements. The car was great and really fun to drive, so I’m looking forward to tomorrow. I haven’t raced with the new package in Singapore, but Liam did a good job last weekend and performed nicely, so I’m not worried about the race. I’ll go out and enjoy tomorrow with all the fans. It will be tricky because tyre degradation seems to be a challenge here, but it’s the same for everyone, so let’s see what we can do. Liam and I are both starting in good positions, so hopefully, we’ll both be able to score points for the team.”
Alonso: “It was difficult for us to find any more pace today. I extracted the maximum from my laps and I’m happy to keep my run of Q3 appearances going. From track to track, the performance levels keep changing – on paper, we knew it would be challenging today. It will be an interesting race but we are optimistic of scoring good points tomorrow. Usually, we are better in the race so let’s see what we can do.”
Gasly: “That was probably our maximum result today in twelfth, even if it was so close amongst so many drivers out there today. I think we did a good job to recover from a challenging Friday and find some improvements on car set-up. It’s such tight margins, though, and we’re less than 0.050secs from Q3, which was a similar story last weekend in Singapore. We’ve been twelfth at the last couple of races and managed to come away with some good results, so it’s certainly all to play for tomorrow. We need to keep working hard as a team and find some extra performance to get ourselves back into the top ten at future events. Tomorrow could be an interesting race with strategy and tyre degradation. We will see what we can do and the aim is come away with another strong result.”
Bottas: “We didn’t get to maximise the potential of our car this afternoon, and it is undoubtedly disappointing, as we had been looking good both in terms of feeling and of pace throughout every session leading up to qualifying. Unfortunately, the red flag affected my first push lap; the final one was actually quite clean, besides some traffic in the first sector, but we lost some pace compared to our direct competitors today, and we eventually dropped out of Q1 by a handful of hundredths. We’ll look into that overnight, and try to figure out what exactly happened, to be in better form again tomorrow. Our long-run pace actually looked promising, so I reckon we still have a chance to recover positions and make improvements on track.”
Magnussen: “I’m happy that we got the best out of it. P15, we want to be better than that, but we knew coming into this weekend it was going to be one of the worst tracks for us, and we know our car is stronger in qualifying than it is in the race. Being P15, you know what’s coming tomorrow, most likely. I feel I’ve made some improvements in terms of how I drive this car and I feel like I’m getting more out of it, so at least that work has paid off.”
Sargeant: “It’s been a good day until the incident. It was going well, and we had the car in a good window. I’ve just been struggling with rear overheating in the last sector. I lost the rear on exit; maybe a bit too aggressive on power with the tailwind as well. The grass creeps up on you quickly as it’s coming back towards you. Unfortunately, once I touched the grass there was nothing I could do. I know the team have a big job on their hands to repair my car for tomorrow and I really appreciate all their hard work and effort.”
Here’s how F1 Japanese GP qualifying panned out