Sergio Perez, Red Bull, Suzuka, 2024

All of Red Bull’s rivals have gained on them since last race at Suzuka

Lap time watch: 2024 Japanese GP

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Red Bull may have locked out the front row of the grid for the Japanese Grand Prix but the competition is getting closer.

Max Verstappen had 0.292 seconds in hand over the next-fastest car at Suzuka. Six months ago, when F1 last raced at this track, the gap was almost exactly twice that.

On both occasions Red Bull’s closest rival was McLaren. Lando Norris, who will line up closest to the Red Bulls tomorrow, pointed out why that bodes particularly well for their team.

“Two tenths is not far away,” he said. “If we look back to where we were last year we were even further away, I think five tenths off pole.

“And this is the first track we’ve come back to where we had our upgrades last season. So I think it’s our best comparison of how we’ve improved over the winter and we’re quite a bit closer. That’s a very good sign.”

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Lando Norris, Oscar Piastri, McLaren, Suzuka, 2024
McLaren are closest to Red Bull on pure pace
Every one of Red Bull’s nine rival teams can boast they’ve cut into their lead between the two most recent Japanese grands prix. It helped matters that all 10 teams still had at least one car in qualifying after Q1, and therefore were all able to benefit from track evolution.

They were also aided by a minor error by Verstappen during his final lap in Q3. His tyres were beginning to fade by the end of the lap and he admitted he didn’t tackle the chicane as successfully as he intended. His pole position time was therefore six hundredths of a second off his theoretical best.

But every team besides Alpine closed on Red Bull by more than that. Aston Martin made the largest leap at all, having endured a poor weekend at Suzuka last year when they were grappling with set-up problems. Fernando Alonso reckoned they couldn’t have done better than fifth, though he was only four-thousandths of a second away from beating Carlos Sainz Jnr to fourth.

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Three other teams have improved their lap times by over a second in less than half a year: Sauber, Haas and Mercedes. The latter is an interesting case, as although their best starting position is no better than it was a year ago, Lewis Hamilton is clearly very pleased with his car’s balance this weekend.

Team principal Toto Wolff saw the glass half full after a session in which Hamilton was a mere 0.085 seconds away from a second-row start.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Suzuka, 2024
Hamilton is happier in his Mercedes
“The headline result of P7 and P9 is not great,” he admitted. “The positive, though, is that we are not too far off the second row, just one tenth or so, at a track that was one of, if not, the worst last year.”

“We seem to have taken a step in the right direction with the car this weekend,” he concluded.

Red Bull nonetheless made a significant year-on-year gain, Verstappen lapping over two-thirds of a second quicker in the RB20 than he did in the RB19.

However it’s striking that at a track which should suit the current generation of ground-effect cars well – few bumps, biased towards medium and high-speed corners – lap times are still some way off the best achieved under the previous era of regulations. That’s despite the fact the most highly developed cars built to the pre-2022 rules did not race at Suzuka as the race was missing from the calendar for two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

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Sector times

P.#DriverS1S2S3Ultimate lap (deficit)
11Max Verstappen30.777 (1)39.85 (2)17.503 (1)1’28.130 (+0.067)
211Sergio Perez30.846 (4)39.763 (1)17.654 (3)1’28.263
34Lando Norris30.8 (2)40.039 (7)17.634 (2)1’28.473 (+0.016)
444Lewis Hamilton30.915 (5)40.008 (5)17.695 (4)1’28.618 (+0.148)
555Carlos Sainz Jnr30.968 (7)39.989 (4)17.722 (12)1’28.679 (+0.003)
614Fernando Alonso30.964 (6)40.027 (6)17.695 (4)1’28.686
781Oscar Piastri30.837 (3)40.227 (9)17.696 (6)1’28.760
816Charles Leclerc31.109 (9)39.866 (3)17.802 (14)1’28.777 (+0.009)
963George Russell31.073 (8)40.092 (8)17.704 (9)1’28.869 (+0.139)
1022Yuki Tsunoda31.283 (10)40.248 (11)17.711 (10)1’29.242 (+0.171)
1177Valtteri Bottas31.357 (12)40.359 (12)17.734 (13)1’29.450 (+0.143)
123Daniel Ricciardo31.352 (11)40.402 (14)17.718 (11)1’29.472
1327Nico Hulkenberg31.558 (16)40.238 (10)17.698 (7)1’29.494
1423Alexander Albon31.584 (17)40.381 (13)17.699 (8)1’29.664 (+0.050)
1531Esteban Ocon31.474 (15)40.456 (15)17.85 (16)1’29.780 (+0.031)
1618Lance Stroll31.386 (13)40.546 (19)17.98 (20)1’29.912 (+0.112)
1710Pierre Gasly31.468 (14)40.662 (20)17.964 (18)1’30.094 (+0.025)
182Logan Sargeant31.744 (19)40.542 (18)17.835 (15)1’30.121 (+0.018)
1920Kevin Magnussen31.786 (20)40.482 (16)17.863 (17)1’30.131
2024Zhou Guanyu31.685 (18)40.487 (17)17.971 (19)1’30.143

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Author information

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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3 comments on “All of Red Bull’s rivals have gained on them since last race at Suzuka”

  1. Interesting analysis, thanks. I guess in the end race pace matters more though. RedBull typically is more focused on that. Pole is a less important extra.

    1. Other thing: this is an unusual moment for suzuka, it’s usually late in the season, red bull is known for their great car development during the season, so they might look weaker here cause suzuka got anticipated.

  2. tire deg is pulling in Red Bull. Red Bull are still a second in front easy. Ferrari are doing a good job tho.

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