Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Suzuka, 2019

Can anyone stop Mercedes on Suzuka’s ‘Super Sunday’?

2019 Japanese Grand Prix Friday practice analysis

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While Super Typhoon Hagibis has dominated the conversation around the Japanese Grand Prix weekend, there is a strong chance the weekend will be completed without anyone turning a lap on wet weather tyres.

Suzuka appears to have been spared the brunt of the storm which prompted the cancellation of final practice and postponement of qualifying to tomorrow. But the massive storm has caused huge disruption elsewhere, and hundreds of thousands of people have been told to evacuate in other parts of Japan.

F1 can therefore consider itself fortunate that forecasts indicate tomorrow’s packed schedule should be able to go ahead in dry conditions. Tomorrow’s ‘Super Sunday’ will include the rescheduled qualifying hour, at 10am in the morning, followed by the race at 2:10pm, by which time the sun may even have reappear at the circuit.

This is good news for teams which did not set competitive lap times in second practice, as that session will be determined to set the grid order if qualifying does not take place. As that now appears unlikely Renault can breathe a sigh of relief, as it means Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg are not necessarily confined to 17th and 18th places on the grid.

That practice session indicated the top three teams are fairly close but Mercedes’ aerodynamic upgrade may have just lifted them clear of Ferrari and Red Bull. Lewis Hamilton, who refers to this as one of his weaker tracks despite having won four of Suzuka’s last five races, was out-paced by Valtteri Bottas in both sessions.

However Hamilton had explanation for the difference between the pair of them. “Valtteri got a massive tow on his fastest lap,” said Hamilton, “he gained like half a second out the back straight.”

Suzuka’s twisty first two sectors are not where you want to be following another car closely. But the final sector is mostly flat-out. “It’s an interesting dynamic because you don’t want to be behind someone through the first part because you need clean air. But if you’re lucky and you get a slipstream later on then it’s perfect.” It’s therefore unlikely we’ll see drivers vying for a tow in qualifying, which caused so much trouble at Monza.

Super Typhoon Hagibis preparations, Suzuka, 2019
Teams protected their pit walls and garages from the typhoon
Assuming the storm hasn’t caused any damage at the circuit, the concern for the drivers tomorrow will be how the downpour has changed the available grip. Sebastian Vettel said the state of the surface “will be a big question mark on Sunday”. Expect to see the field hurrying out en masse at the start of a frantic Q1 session.

Qualifying and racing on the same day will bring additional challenges for the teams. Suzuka’s close confined make it easy to damage a car, and teams needing to repair damage after qualifying will have only around three hours to complete the job.

Disrupted practice sessions can often lead to surprises in the races. Will this help Ferrari or Red Bull take the fight to Mercedes?

Most teams were able to pre-empt Saturday’s inclement weather by doing more running in first and second practice. But tyre performance in the race will remain a significant question mark due to the expected change in grip levels. This could be a particular concern for Ferrari, as their long-run pace didn’t look as strong as Mercedes’ on Friday.

However Max Verstappen set an encouraging pace on Friday in a car equipped with an upgraded Honda engine and new fuel formula designed to allow drivers to extract maximum power more often. It could be one of the home-powered cars which emerge as the closest challenger to Mercedes.

Longest stint comparison – second practice

This chart shows all the drivers’ lap times (in seconds) during their longest unbroken stint. Very slow laps omitted. Scroll to zoom, drag to pan, right-click to reset:

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Combined practice times

Pos Driver Car FP1 FP2 Total laps
1 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1’28.731 1’27.785 59
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1’28.807 1’27.885 59
3 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda 1’30.046 1’28.066 46
4 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1’29.912 1’28.141 48
5 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1’29.720 1’28.376 63
6 Alexander Albon Red Bull-Honda 1’30.375 1’28.402 58
7 Carlos Sainz Jnr McLaren-Renault 1’30.702 1’29.051 50
8 Sergio Perez Racing Point-Mercedes 1’30.810 1’29.299 49
9 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso-Honda 1’29.354 34
10 Lando Norris McLaren-Renault 1’31.001 1’29.358 59
11 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1’31.307 1’29.477 56
12 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso-Honda 1’31.920 1’29.512 58
13 Romain Grosjean Haas-Ferrari 1’31.283 1’29.553 53
14 Lance Stroll Racing Point-Mercedes 1’30.959 1’29.597 54
15 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1’36.887 1’29.651 37
16 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 1’31.785 1’29.749 53
17 Daniel Ricciardo Renault 1’31.563 1’29.859 55
18 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1’31.426 1’30.334 58
19 Robert Kubica Williams-Mercedes 1’33.484 1’30.916 62
20 George Russell Williams-Mercedes 1’32.800 1’31.071 59
21 Naoki Yamamoto Toro Rosso-Honda 1’32.018 30

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Quotes: Dieter Rencken

2019 Japanese Grand Prix

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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17 comments on “Can anyone stop Mercedes on Suzuka’s ‘Super Sunday’?”

  1. I suspect, no, although there’s always the caveat that needs to be added when reading into practice-times.

  2. Judging by the damage cyclone has already caused its going to difficult weekend hopefully they cancel the event.

    1. What? Are you an F1 fan?

    2. @Chaitanya They can’t cancel the event altogether, given how much money, time, and effort have been put into putting up everything to make an F1-event. Not to mention, the transports from Europe.

      1. Weather has turned for better, recently there was a cyclone on east India and conditions took a lot longer to improve after landfall. There was heavy rainfall and high wind in following days. Seems like conditions are much better than friday itself.

    3. Dennis Chileshe Mwansa
      12th October 2019, 16:41

      Many of us who traveled to Japan for this weekend spent a lot of money on flights, hotels and F1 tickets. Wishing the event is canceled even when Sunday itself is dry is just inconsiderate of fans who sacrifice, travel and help support the sport.

      1. I know pain of travelling for an event and weather ruining plans. Generally after cyclone it takes couple of days for situation to improve and looks like weather has turned for better(except for wind which is going to throw spanner in works).

    4. Hopefully NOT!

  3. No, if it’s dry and there are no big mistakes, failures or first lap crashes, they can’t be touched this weekend.

  4. All this opinions for tommorow performance of Mercedes are based because they are 0.3 faster in free practise?
    I prefer to wait for tommorow to be certain if this is the case…

    1. The teams were aware that the grid may be decided in FP2 and Merc didn’t even feel the need to use the soft tyre.
      They’re well ahead this weekend unless something weird happens.

      1. Dennis a Chileshe Mwansa
        13th October 2019, 1:09

        Yes they were fast enough but probably once they locked down the front, it was more significant that they save soft tyres since they brought the fewest number of soft tyres of all the teams.

      2. Hands up, I’ll eat my words.
        Great job by Ferrari for Super Sunday part 1.

  5. Merc openly sandbagging… shameful

    1. They weren’t being so careful about it this time, though – I saw a whole bunch of them sandbags stockpiled outside their garage.

  6. They weren’t being so careful about it this time, though – I saw a whole bunch of them sandbags stockpiled outside their garage.

    1. [delete]

Comments are closed.