Suzuka, FP1: Verstappen and Red Bull back to their best

Sainz 2nd, Norris 3rd


By Franck Drui

22 September 2023 - 05:41
Suzuka, FP1: Verstappen and Red (...)

After suffering a rare off-weekend in Singapore last time out, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was back to his imperious best in the opening practice session for this weekend’s 2023 FIA Formula 1 Japanese Grand Prix, topping the FP1 timesheet by well over half a second. Carlos Sainz got closest to the championship-leading Dutchman, though the Ferrari driver still ended the session 0.626 adrift. Third place went to McLaren’s Lando Norris

Verstappen was quickly into the groove at the iconic Suzuka circuit with the Red Bull driver setting the early pace with a lap of 1:33.719 set on hard tyres. After completing five laps on the white-banded tyre, he headed for the pit land and after moving to the test tyres on offer from Pirelli this weekend he improved his P1 time with a tour of 1:32.597. That put the Dutchman a comfortable 1.6s ahead of the chasing pack.

With a quarter hour gone in the session, Verstappen’s Red Bull team-mate Sergio Pérez made it a Red Bull 1-2, although the Mexican driver, who had an equally tough time on the streets of Singapore, still found himself 1.2 seconds off his team-mate. Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso then arrived to split the Red Bulls, taking second with a 1:33.166.

Verstappen, still on the test tyres, then went quicker with a lap of 132.442. Mercedes’ George Russell moved up to third fastest behind Pérez but Alonso was soon back in the top three with a lap of 1:33.166 on mediums, while Nico Hülkenberg went fourth fastest for Haas on softs.

As the half hour point arrived the majority of the field began to move soft tyres. Pérez, on the red-banded rubber, posted a lap of 1:33.043 but that still left him 0.601s off his team-mate’s earlier time set on the test tyres.

Verstappen then emerged on the soft tyres and the championship leader raced ahead with a lap of 1:31.647, 1.396 ahead of Pérez. Ferrari also moved onto the Softs, and Sainz went second quickest with a lap of 1:32.273. 0.626s off Verstappen, while Leclerc slotted into third, four-tenths off his team-mate with a 1:32.693. Alonso then popped up again to split the Ferraris with a lap of 1:32.650, four hundredths of a second ahead of Leclerc.

Behind the top four, Williams’ Alex Albon put in a good lap to take fifth place on the timesheet , with the equally impressive Liam Lawson taking sixth.

With a little over 10 minutes to go both were eclipsed by Norris, the McLaren driver putting in a 1:32.880 to move ahead of both on medium tyres. Local hero Yuki Tsunoda was not to be outdone, though, and the Japanese driver took his AlphaTauri to P4, ahead of Alonso, with a crowd-pleasing time of 1:32.597.

Although most of the field moved to harder compound tyres in the closing 10 minutes, McLaren left their efforts on Softs to late in the session and in the final moments with Piastri going seventh fastest while Norris jumped to third quickest ahead of Leclerc and Tsunoda.

01 Max Verstappen Red Bull Honda RBPT RB19 1:31.647 25
02 Carlos Sainz Ferrari SF-23 1:32.273 24
03 Lando Norris McLaren Mercedes MCL60 1:32.392 24
04 Charles Leclerc Ferrari SF-23 1:32.574 25
05 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri Honda RBPT AT04 1:32.597 21
06 Fernando Alonso Aston Martin Mercedes AMR23 1:32.650 23
07 Oscar Piastri McLaren Mercedes MCL60 1:32.713 26
08 Alex Albon Williams Mercedes FW45 1:32.991 24
09 Liam Lawson AlphaTauri Honda RBPT AT04 1:33.005 28
10 Lance Stroll Aston Martin Mercedes AMR23 1:33.040 17
11 Sergio Pérez Red Bull Honda RBPT RB19 1:33.043 25
12 Pierre Gasly Alpine Renault A523 1:33.129 23
13 George Russell Mercedes W14 1:33.310 24
14 Nico Hülkenberg Haas Ferrari VF-23 1:33.448 24
15 Esteban Ocon Alpine Renault A523 1:33.516 22
16 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes W14 1:33.699 22
17 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo Ferrari C43 1:33.860 24
18 Kevin Magnussen Haas Ferrari VF-23 1:33.975 23
19 Logan Sargeant Williams Mercedes FW45 1:34.212 27
20 Guanyu Zhou Alfa Romeo Ferrari C43 1:34.831 23

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