Race day rain may pose extra challenge to Verstappen as he aims to take title in style

2022 Japanese Grand Prix pre-race analysis

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Out of the 72 Formula 1 world championships contested, the title was decided at the season finale on 30 occasions. In most seasons, the champion put the title out of reach with at least one round to spare.

Tomorrow, in Japan, Max Verstappen has his second opportunity in the space of eight days to put the drivers’ championship out of sight and become only the 17th driver in history to claim multiple world titles. And by securing pole position at Suzuka, the Red Bull driver has given himself the best possible chance of making that a reality on Sunday.

However, that pole position was secured by the slimmest margin of the season so far – just one-hundredth of a second ahead of Charles Leclerc and his Ferrari team mate, Carlos Sainz Jnr. It’s quite possible the margin could have been larger, had Verstappen improved on his second and final effort, but losing a piece of bodywork from the rear of his car on his last lap may have prevented him from realising his full potential over one lap.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Suzuka, 2022
A tiny error at the chicane cost Leclerc pole
“I am really happy to be on pole and in general – just super happy to be back here in Japan,” Verstappen said.

“During qualifying, I lost a part of the duct from the car in my final lap so that’s why I couldn’t really improve, nevertheless the first lap was good enough.”

Leclerc was audibly angry over team radio to have missed out on extending his already rich poles tally for the season – and he had every right to be. He had been almost a tenth up on Verstappen’s first lap before reaching the chicane, but after braking later than the Red Bull driver Leclerc couldn’t get back on the power as early as his rival. His advantage over the Red Bull whittled away, until Verstappen was finally ahead of him mere metres from the finish line.

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“The car was good, I was struggling more with the tyres to put everything together, first and last sector especially,” Leclerc explained. “The more I was pushing in the first sector, the more I was going slow in the last sector, losing a little bit the tyres. So, it was a tricky one but overall the car felt good.”

Esteban Ocon, Alpine, Suzuka, 2022
Ocon put his Alpine ahead of the Mercedes pair
Aside from qualifying, Saturday’s hour-long practice session was the only dry running teams had in which to prepare their cars. Verstappen ran a seven-lap stint on four-lap old soft tyres, setting an average lap time of a 1’37.684. Ferrari appeared to be faster than Verstappen’s run, with Sainz logging an average pace almost a second a lap quicker than the Red Bull on fresh softs, while Leclerc also matched his team mate’s pace – but on the mediums.

“I think we managed to hook up a good balance in FP3, which is a good sign,” said Sainz.

“It means we understand the car and we know the baseline set up normally works well in every track now. It’s now a matter of who that last half-a-tenth falls in favour of, which today was in favour of Max. At other circuits, it’s in favour of us. But it’s-super tight, at least in quali.”

But rather than it being a straight fight in the dry between Verstappen and the two Ferraris on Sunday, there is a genuine risk that rain could play a factor for the second consecutive race weekend. Light rain is expected overnight which may continue into the afternoon and act as a wildcard for how the race will play out.

Mercedes certainly hope the rain will come. They qualified among the Alpine drivers in only sixth and eighth places for Lewis Hamilton and George Russell, respectively in part due to Mercedes running much higher downforce levels than the Red Bulls and Ferraris. The W13s were up to 10kph slower than Verstappen along the straights. The team’s trackside engineering director, Andrew Shovlin, said the team had set up their cars with inclement weather in mind.

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“We stayed on the higher rear wing levels as the degradation in the morning was very high and there is a growing risk of rain in tomorrow’s race,” Shovlin explained. “In both of those situations, the wing level should be a benefit. It will not be a benefit getting past the Alpine cars, though, which we need to do early if we stand any chance of getting into a race with Red Bull and Ferrari.”

Valtteri Bottas, Alfa Romeo, Suzuka, 2022
Drivers got plenty of wet weather practice on Friday
The Ferrari drivers confirmed they had set up their F1-75 with the aim of trying to get the best performance in dry conditions. “Honestly, there was no big compromises done for tomorrow,” said Leclerc.

“Obviously the forecast is predicting a little bit of rain here and there. We won’t know whether it will happen or not but it was very tricky though, to actually have the car ready and in the right spot for qualifying after only FP3 but I think we did a good job on that so it didn’t compromise us.”

Sainz seemed fairly certain that rain was a matter of when, not if. “Tomorrow, the rain, we don’t know if it’s going to arrive at two, at three, at four but it looks like it will hit us,” he said.

“You don’t know if the rain is going to arrive in the last stint, in the first stint or after the race, which [means] it’s not worth taking any compromises. But the good thing is that we have both cars up there again, ready to put the pressure on Max and see when the rain comes and how we can get both of us ahead.”

Fortunately for teams, if it does rain, they at least have the benefit of nearly three hours of wet running over Friday they can draw from. Regardless of whatever the conditions will be, Verstappen knows securing his second title on Sunday will not be a walk in the park.

“I’m not thinking about it too much,” Verstappen said.

“I think what was most important is that we would have a competitive car and clearly we had that today in qualifying. I hope of course it’s going to be the same tomorrow in the race – because we do need a perfect race to be able to win it tomorrow. But at least it’s a good start.”

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Qualifying times in full

PositionNumberDriverTeamQ1 timeQ2 time (vs Q1)Q3 time (vs Q2)
11Max VerstappenRed Bull1’30.2241’30.346 (+0.122s)1’29.304 (-1.042s)
216Charles LeclercFerrari1’30.4021’30.486 (+0.084s)1’29.314 (-1.172s)
355Carlos Sainz JnrFerrari1’30.3361’30.444 (+0.108s)1’29.361 (-1.083s)
411Sergio PerezRed Bull1’30.6221’29.925 (-0.697s)1’29.709 (-0.216s)
531Esteban OconAlpine-Renault1’30.6961’30.357 (-0.339s)1’30.165 (-0.192s)
644Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’30.9061’30.443 (-0.463s)1’30.261 (-0.182s)
714Fernando AlonsoAlpine-Renault1’30.6031’30.343 (-0.260s)1’30.322 (-0.021s)
863George RussellMercedes1’30.8651’30.465 (-0.400s)1’30.389 (-0.076s)
95Sebastian VettelAston Martin-Mercedes1’31.2561’30.656 (-0.600s)1’30.554 (-0.102s)
104Lando NorrisMcLaren-Mercedes1’30.8811’30.473 (-0.408s)1’31.003 (+0.530s)
113Daniel RicciardoMcLaren-Mercedes1’30.8801’30.659 (-0.221s)Missed by 0.003s
1277Valtteri BottasAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’31.2261’30.709 (-0.517s)Missed by 0.053s
1322Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri-Red Bull1’31.1301’30.808 (-0.322s)Missed by 0.152s
1424Zhou GuanyuAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’30.8941’30.953 (+0.059s)Missed by 0.297s
1547Mick SchumacherHaas-Ferrari1’31.1521’31.439 (+0.287s)Missed by 0.783s
1623Alexander AlbonWilliams-Mercedes1’31.311Missed by 0.055s
1710Pierre GaslyAlphaTauri-Red Bull1’31.322Missed by 0.066s
1820Kevin MagnussenHaas-Ferrari1’31.352Missed by 0.096s
1918Lance StrollAston Martin-Mercedes1’31.419Missed by 0.163s
206Nicholas LatifiWilliams-Mercedes1’31.511Missed by 0.255s

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Sector times

PositionNumberDriverSector oneSector twoSector threeUltimate lapDeficit to ultimate lap
11Max Verstappen31.116 (1)40.323 (3)17.782 (1)1’29.2210.083
255Carlos Sainz Jnr31.127 (2)40.275 (2)17.845 (2)1’29.2470.114
316Charles Leclerc31.149 (3)40.166 (1)17.942 (4)1’29.2570.057
411Sergio Perez31.373 (6)40.433 (4)17.903 (3)1’29.709
544Lewis Hamilton31.321 (4)40.766 (8)18.067 (10)1’30.1540.107
631Esteban Ocon31.333 (5)40.786 (9)18.046 (9)1’30.165
714Fernando Alonso31.455 (9)40.707 (5)18.029 (6)1’30.1910.131
863George Russell31.43 (8)40.73 (6)18.166 (15)1’30.3260.063
94Lando Norris31.427 (7)40.987 (14)18.029 (6)1’30.4430.030
105Sebastian Vettel31.655 (11)40.741 (7)18.106 (11)1’30.5020.052
113Daniel Ricciardo31.565 (10)40.938 (12)18.156 (14)1’30.659
1277Valtteri Bottas31.711 (12)40.981 (13)18.005 (5)1’30.6970.012
1322Yuki Tsunoda31.787 (16)40.879 (10)18.142 (13)1’30.808
1424Zhou Guanyu31.803 (17)40.92 (11)18.106 (11)1’30.8290.065
1547Mick Schumacher31.745 (13)41.082 (16)18.295 (19)1’31.1220.030
1610Pierre Gasly31.863 (18)41.228 (19)18.196 (17)1’31.2870.035
1723Alexander Albon32.089 (19)41.03 (15)18.172 (16)1’31.2910.020
1820Kevin Magnussen31.765 (15)41.227 (18)18.36 (20)1’31.352
1918Lance Stroll31.755 (14)41.361 (20)18.262 (18)1’31.3780.041
206Nicholas Latifi32.311 (20)41.17 (17)18.03 (8)1’31.511

Speed trap

PositionNumberDriverCarEngineModelMax kph (mph)
16Nicholas LatifiWilliamsMercedesFW44308.9 (191.9)
223Alexander AlbonWilliamsMercedesFW44306.2 (190.3)
31Max VerstappenRed BullRed BullRB18303.8 (188.8)
455Carlos Sainz JnrFerrariFerrariF1-75303.6 (188.6)
511Sergio PerezRed BullRed BullRB18303.2 (188.4)
616Charles LeclercFerrariFerrariF1-75302.5 (188.0)
714Fernando AlonsoAlpineRenaultA522302.1 (187.7)
822Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauriRed BullAT03301.8 (187.5)
931Esteban OconAlpineRenaultA522301.6 (187.4)
1010Pierre GaslyAlphaTauriRed BullAT03301 (187.0)
114Lando NorrisMcLarenMercedesMCL36298.5 (185.5)
1224Zhou GuanyuAlfa RomeoFerrariC42297.5 (184.9)
133Daniel RicciardoMcLarenMercedesMCL36297.3 (184.7)
1477Valtteri BottasAlfa RomeoFerrariC42297.1 (184.6)
155Sebastian VettelAston MartinMercedesAMR22296.2 (184.1)
1618Lance StrollAston MartinMercedesAMR22296.2 (184.1)
1720Kevin MagnussenHaasFerrariVF-22295.4 (183.6)
1847Mick SchumacherHaasFerrariVF-22295 (183.3)
1944Lewis HamiltonMercedesMercedesW13294.1 (182.7)
2063George RussellMercedesMercedesW13292.9 (182.0)

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Over to you

Will Verstappen clinch the championship at the second time of asking? Can Ferrari find a way to stop Red Bull’s winning streak?

Share your views on the Japanese Grand Prix in the comments.

2022 Japanese Grand Prix

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Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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11 comments on “Race day rain may pose extra challenge to Verstappen as he aims to take title in style”

  1. Will Verstappen clinch the championship at the second time of asking? – Yes.
    Can Ferrari find a way to stop Red Bull’s winning streak? – No.

  2. This is a track where sliding and too much oversteer in the wet will cause a huge difficulty. Rosberg in 2014 had no pace when he was struggling with oversteer. If it is wet in the race, and anyone is running an extreme low downforce compared to others, they will struggle. In the dry a low downforce here is powerful as long as there is not that much sliding. The many changes of direction in the S section will cause a lot of tyre wear when sliding and up to the second degner corner.

  3. as opposed to taking the title in disgrace. he knows.

  4. If towards the end of the race, Verstappen is leading with Leclerc in second, it would certainly provide sufficient material for the two weeks until the Texan GP if Mercedes were to make a pitstop to snatch the fastest lap.

    On a more serious note though, all that’s left to play for in F1 are the fights for the scraps; 4th between Alpine and McLaren, and 7th between Aston Martin, Haas and that other Red Bull team.

    Also, will Ferrari remain winless for the entire second half of the season? It’s not unlikely at this rate.

    1. Why isn’t ferrari vs merc an interesting fight?

      1. The gap has grown quite a bit as you say. But also, while the gap is much closer than it should be based on car pace, there isn’t much of a fight. Mercedes has only outscored Ferrari without a Ferrari DNF twice, in Hungary and the Netherlands. And Hungary was a bit of an own goal by Ferrari as far as Leclerc’s so-called “strategy” was concerned. As long as Ferrari keeps it somewhat together, they should be comfortably clear of the Mercedes cars.

    2. Nevermind, I guess they’re a bit too far to really challenge them now, even if merc maximised more what they had, also in the driver’s standings.

  5. F1 will just send out the cars behind the safety car for a 2 hour parade and declare VER the winner and also award him the fastest lap.

    1. And run the full race distance, or 75% of it so full points can be awarded??

  6. I read a story about Verstappen karting days, when it started raining all the other kids went inside, he kept on practicing, I can’t find the link. Why would he be worried about a little rain?

  7. Now that question is answered fast

Comments are closed.