Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Suzuka, 2023

Verstappen puts Red Bull back on top in first practice at Suzuka

Formula 1

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Championship leader Max Verstappen put Red Bull back on top of the times in the opening practice session for the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka.

Verstappen’s best time of a 1’31.647 was over six tenths quicker than Singapore Grand Prix winner Carlos Sainz Jnr in the Ferrari, with Lando Norris third-fastest for McLaren during a largely uneventful session.

It was a cloudy start to the race weekend with overcast skies above the Suzuka circuit, however ambient temperatures were almost 28 degrees, providing representative conditions for what teams can expect for Sunday’s race. Pirelli had brought prototype 2024 tyres to Suzuka, providing them for all drivers to be able to run among their usual allocation of compounds for the weekend.

Verstappen was the first driver out on the circuit, using the hard compound tyres. He set the first push lap of the weekend with a 1’33.719, with Fernando Alonso choosing the prototype tyres for his own first outing on the circuit and going second with a 124.424.

Red Bull brought Verstappen in for the prototype tyres and he improved on his first timed lap by seven tenths of a second. The two McLarens of Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris were the quickest behind the championship leader on mediums, before Sergio Perez made it a Red Bull one-two, also on the prototype tyres.

Logan Sargeant had never driven the Suzuka circuit before and he explored the limits of the track over the first half hour of running, having offs at the chicane and the second Degner. Meanwhile, his Williams team mate Alexander Albon was forced to return to the pits for maintenance after his DRS wing element was seen vibrating excessively during his early run.

Verstappen continued to push and lowered his own best time to a 1’32.442, while Alonso improved to a 1’33.166, seven tenths slower than the championship leader in second place. At the half-hour mark, Red Bull fitted the soft tyres to both their cars. Perez improved to go just over six tenths slower than his team mate, before Verstappen’s first flying lap on the softs yielded a 1’31.647, comfortably the quickest time of the session.

The Ferraris of Sainz and Charles Leclerc were next to take the soft tyres out on track, with Sainz getting closest to Verstappen but still six tenths behind, with Leclerc moving third, three tenths behind his team mate.

The later part of the session was dedicated to higher fuel runs with Verstappen fitting the hard tyres for a longer run. The only notable improvement in the top part of the field was Lando Norris, who split the two Ferraris near the end of the session with soft tyres to move third.

At the end of the session, Verstappen was comfortably quickest over Sainz, with Norris third and Leclerc in fourth, although the Ferrari driver had a bizarre off at the hairpin after the chequered flag, running over the gravel as a result. Yuki Tsunoda ended the session in fifth, with Alonso sixth, Oscar Piastri seventh.

Albon returned from his rear wing repairs to take eighth place ahead of Liam Lawson in the second AlphaTauri. Lance Stroll completed the top 10 in his return to the cockpit after his heavy accident in qualifying for the Singapore Grand Prix.

2023 Japanese Grand Prix first practice result

11Max VerstappenRed Bull-Honda RBPTRB191’31.64725
255Carlos Sainz JnrFerrariSF-231’32.2730.62624
34Lando NorrisMcLaren-MercedesMCL601’32.3920.74524
416Charles LeclercFerrariSF-231’32.5740.92725
522Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri-Honda RBPTAT041’32.5970.95021
614Fernando AlonsoAston Martin-MercedesAMR231’32.6501.00323
781Oscar PiastriMcLaren-MercedesMCL601’32.7131.06626
823Alexander AlbonWilliams-MercedesFW451’32.9911.34424
940Liam LawsonAlphaTauri-Honda RBPTAT041’33.0051.35828
1018Lance StrollAston Martin-MercedesAMR231’33.0401.39317
1111Sergio PerezRed Bull-Honda RBPTRB191’33.0431.39625
1210Pierre GaslyAlpine-RenaultA5231’33.1291.48223
1363George RussellMercedesW141’33.3101.66324
1427Nico HulkenbergHaas-FerrariVF-231’33.4481.80124
1531Esteban OconAlpine-RenaultA5231’33.5161.86922
1644Lewis HamiltonMercedesW141’33.6992.05222
1777Valtteri BottasAlfa Romeo-FerrariC431’33.8602.21324
1820Kevin MagnussenHaas-FerrariVF-231’33.9752.32823
192Logan SargeantWilliams-MercedesFW451’34.2122.56527
2024Zhou GuanyuAlfa Romeo-FerrariC431’34.8313.18423

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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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