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

Position Number Driver Team Model Time Gap Laps
1 1 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda RBPT RB19 1’31.647 25
2 55 Carlos Sainz Jnr Ferrari SF-23 1’32.273 0.626 24
3 4 Lando Norris McLaren-Mercedes MCL60 1’32.392 0.745 24
4 16 Charles Leclerc Ferrari SF-23 1’32.574 0.927 25
5 22 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri-Honda RBPT AT04 1’32.597 0.950 21
6 14 Fernando Alonso Aston Martin-Mercedes AMR23 1’32.650 1.003 23
7 81 Oscar Piastri McLaren-Mercedes MCL60 1’32.713 1.066 26
8 23 Alexander Albon Williams-Mercedes FW45 1’32.991 1.344 24
9 40 Liam Lawson AlphaTauri-Honda RBPT AT04 1’33.005 1.358 28
10 18 Lance Stroll Aston Martin-Mercedes AMR23 1’33.040 1.393 17
11 11 Sergio Perez Red Bull-Honda RBPT RB19 1’33.043 1.396 25
12 10 Pierre Gasly Alpine-Renault A523 1’33.129 1.482 23
13 63 George Russell Mercedes W14 1’33.310 1.663 24
14 27 Nico Hulkenberg Haas-Ferrari VF-23 1’33.448 1.801 24
15 31 Esteban Ocon Alpine-Renault A523 1’33.516 1.869 22
16 44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes W14 1’33.699 2.052 22
17 77 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo-Ferrari C43 1’33.860 2.213 24
18 20 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari VF-23 1’33.975 2.328 23
19 2 Logan Sargeant Williams-Mercedes FW45 1’34.212 2.565 27
20 24 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo-Ferrari C43 1’34.831 3.184 23

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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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