How can Perez seize rare opportunity to fight Verstappen for Suzuka win?

2024 Japanese GP strategy briefing

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For the first time in 399 days, Red Bull drivers Max Verstappenand Sergio Perez will share the front row of the grid for a grand prix tomorrow.

That may seem surprising given their team’s domination of the last two seasons. But the world champions’ drivers have rarely competed for victory directly against each other during that time.

Although Perez pushed his team mate to his slimmest pole winning margin of the season so far, it was admittedly helped in no small part by Verstappen’s sub-optimal run through the final sector. That could suggest that this will be the closest that Perez could get to the pole-winning RB20 on Sunday – especially as Verstappen has so far been quickest in each and every session he has participated in so far this weekend.

After limited long running this weekend thanks to Friday’s second practice session ending up effectively washed out, Verstappen insisted that Red Bull cannot take for granted that they will be as strong as usual in the race. However, Lando Norris, who starts directly behind the two Red Bulls in third on the grid, is not buying that.

Sergio Perez, Red Bull, Suzuka, 2024
Perez got within a tenth of a second of taking pole
“They complained about their race pace, but I don’t think they’ve had a bad race in the last, four or five years, so I think they’re going to be good tomorrow,” said the McLaren driver.

“Of course we’ve got a lot of pressure from behind so we have to keep an eye on the mirrors. But at the same time I want to go forward and I think we have pace to stay where we are, so that’s my goal.”

For the first time since 2018, a championship title will not be sealed after the Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday. But how will the 52 laps of Suzuka likely play out and what are the main factors that will shape who ends up on each step of the podium?


Nico Hulkenberg, Haas, Suzuka, 2024
The threat of rain has receded since the weekend began
Heading into the weekend, there appeared to be a real chance that Sunday’s race could be the first wet grand prix of the 2024 season. But almost from the moment the paddock gates opened on Friday, that risk of rain has gradually reduced.

Currently, forecasts project a maximum probability of around 20% that rain will hit Suzuka on Sunday. While that’s not low enough to completely write off the possibility, it’s looking increasingly like drivers will face a straightforward, dry race.

One constant over the weekend has been the generally colder conditions because of the race being moved to April. However, while the temperatures have been significantly lower than last September, they are not cold enough to make a major difference to the race. Should the conditions from qualifying be repeated on race day, this will be the coldest dry Japanese Grand Prix since 2016.

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Start, Suzuka, 2023
Several drivers tangled on the run to turn one last year
The short, downhill dash to the first corner at Suzuka is one of the most famous on the calendar, especially given the major drama that has unfolded there before. That’s not going to be repeated on Sunday as the race is now much earlier in the season than ever before, but there’s still going to be plenty of excitement over the 375 metres from the start line to the first turn.

History suggests Perez may need to be more wary about Norris behind him than his team mate ahead. Over the last six dry race starts at Suzuka, the pole-winner has led the opening lap four times, while Valtteri Bottas jumped from third on the grid ahead of the two Ferraris to lead in 2019, the last dry grid start at Suzuka before 2023. Third seems to be a blessed grid slot to start from as over those same six starts, drivers starting from third have gained places on four occasions.

Once drivers rush through the first right-hander, the esses that follow have a natural effect of filtering out the field into single file. This makes getting the lead into turn one especially critical, compared to circuits like Silverstone or Spa-Francorchamps, that will soon offer follow-up opportunities for slipstreaming and overtaking beyond the first corner.


Last year’s Japanese Grand Prix, like the previous dry race before it in 2019, was won with a two stop strategy. Verstappen started on the medium compound rubber, took another set of the yellow-walled tyres on lap 16 then made a second stop to switch to hard tyres on lap 37.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Suzuka, 2024
Cooler temperatures may provoke more varied strategies
With its high cornering speeds, Suzuka is one of F1’s toughest circuits on tyres. Pirelli have brought their hardest combination of compounds to Japan once more. The likelihood of anyone planning to run a one stop strategy appears slim again.

“Despite it being considerably cooler than for last year’s race, degradation is still particularly significant,” says Pirellis motorsport director Mario Isola. “Therefore, a two-stop is still the quickest choice.”

McLaren team principal Andrea Stella predicted before qualifying that most would attempt a two-stop strategy on the mediums and hard compounds – effectively the same as last year. However, back in September, McLaren scored a double podium with both Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri running their final two stints on the hards. However, that will not be viable for the Red Bull pair or the Ferrari drivers of Carlos Sainz Jnr and Charles Leclerc or fifth-placed Fernando Alonso, who all only have one set of the hardest tyres available.

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The main difference to last year’s race is how the soft compound looks to be more usable than it was last year, where only eight drivers – nine if Perez’s late race penalty run of shame is counted – opted to run the soft tyre during the race. One of whom was Alonso, who started on a used set of softs. He has a brand new set of softs available to him – could he take advantage of this when he starts from fifth?


Valtteri Bottas, Logan Sargeant, Suzuka, 2023
Passing at the hairpin is possible – but tricky
Although Suzuka is held up as one of the best tracks on the calendar to drive, it does not boast the same level of overtaking opportunities that some of its fellow classics do. While drivers had the luxury of four DRS zones in the last race at Albert Park, Suzuka has just one, meaning more passing has to be done the old-fashioned way.

With an average of 35 on-track overtakes per race over the last five dry races at Suzuka, it is a track with a generally below-average rate of overtaking. However, the degradation caused by the sweeping corners make the ‘undercut’ more effective than at many places, which will heavily play into strategy during the grand prix.

Safety Cars

As a circuit with hardly any asphalt run-offs to speak of, mistakes and careless driving get punished at Suzuka. The last five dry races here have seen three Safety Car deployments and four Virtual Safety Cars – a fairly typical rate.

Last year saw a crash before drivers had even reached the first corner, Esteban Ocon, Zhou Guanyu and Alexander Albon littering the start/finish straight with debris. With the relatively high speed entry into the opening corner and the natural funnel effect into the second apex, there’s always a significant risk of contact at the start at Suzuka.

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One to watch

Valtteri Bottas, Sauber, Suzuka, 2024
Past Suzuka winner Bottas is hunting Sauber’s first points
Although Yuki Tsunoda is an obvious stand-out for a driver down the field to keep an eye on as he looks to score points in his home grand prix for the first time, Sauber driver Valtteri Bottas is very eager to fight for his team’s first points of the season. He may be starting from 13th on the grid – still with some positions to gain to break into the top ten, but Bottas is bullish about his chances.

“I am confident that if we get everything right, we will be able to put up a decent battle with the cars around us and bring home some points,” he said.

But even if he performs at his best on track, it will all be for nothing if the team suffer significant delays during their pit stops for the fourth consecutive round – especially with multiple stops expected for most drivers over the race. Sauber say they have worked “day and night” to solve their pit stop problems – will their efforts prove successful, or will they self-sabotage their best chance at points in the season so far?

Over to you

Are there any likely threats to Verstappen in the field this weekend?

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

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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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15 comments on “How can Perez seize rare opportunity to fight Verstappen for Suzuka win?”

  1. Mercedes will be riding business class on the Alonso train. But no snacks no free wifi. They might undercut with one car but they could finish a minute behind with that and their lack of pace.

    1. Not a straightforward 2 Mercs vs Alonso race, I think it could be an interesting 5 way fight for 5th with Leclerc and Piastri.

    2. Given that it’s a LOT warmer, they might not do that great

  2. He can’t.

  3. Definitely no genuine threats, except for unreliability.

    1. Maybe, or not. Depends, really…

      1. An invaluable contribution

  4. If Perez is even close to winning, he will be told to let Max pass him.
    Come on people … this F1 …. it’s a show.

    1. Certainly, as has always been the case, Red Bull wouldn’t want their other driver threatening their golden boy.

    2. Yep. This is true

      But to prevent embarrassment, they will tell him to no get upstart ideas BEFORE the race.

    3. Ah, my earlier comment didn’t get posted, that’s why I had to do a test, but in any case they won’t tell perez to let verstappen by cause 1) It’d be bad for the show, 2) Verstappen is consistently faster, 3) Check the 2 times perez won last year, it’s not like verstappen wasn’t right behind!

  5. It’s happened immediately, this is amazing!

  6. helped in no small part by Verstappen’s sub-optimal run through the final sector.

    I understand the intent of this comment, and yes, compared to expectations and typical performance it is not an unreasonable stance. But the reality should be that had both drivers performed ‘optimally’ (as opposed to ‘as per expectation’) they would have identical times.

    His errors in the final sector were a result – as he freely admitted – of pushing harder earlier on, so I am unsure it is fair to somewhat undermine Perez’s relative qualifying performance. The stopwatch is what matters, and in any case, Verstappen was ahead (as expected!).

  7. Am I missing something or does this article ommits saying that PER was the fastest already in the second sector and that his third sector was also compromised in part because a MERC was in the way ?

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