Japanese GP 2023

SEPTEMBER 22, 2023

Friday Report - Verstappen quickest

Max Verstappen
© Red Bull

By Luis Vasconcelas

Max Verstappen comfortably remained the fastest driver around Suzuka in FP2 for the Japanese Grand Prix, being the only driver to break into the 1m30s bracket on his low fuel runs with Soft tyres.

The Dutchman found a good balance for his car right out of the box and didn’t make any changes during the day but was comfortably the quickest on the low fuel runs, even if Ferrari halved the gap compared to FP1. But it was his pace on the short race simulations at the end of the session that showed how much quicker the RB19 is compared to the other cars, as the average lap time of 1m37.73s while his closest contender also on the Medium tyres was Charles Leclerc, with an average lap time of 1m38.28s.

Team mate Sérgio Pérez finally got the upgraded floor but was only ninth quickest, lapping more than one second slower than Verstappen.

Ferrari with Leclerc was second quickest, 0,32s behind Verstappen, finally getting ahead of Sainz, who was fourth fastest, just over one tenth of a second behind the Monegasque. Tyre degradation was a big issue given the abrasive nature of the Suzuka tarmac.

Lando Norris split the two Ferrari, the British driver setting the third quickest time of the session, just 0.044s behind Leclerc, but the youngster was not delighted with the balance of his car, explaining the MCL60 has become a lot more difficult to drive since the aerodynamic upgrades were introduced last week in Singapore. Oscar Piastri, who finally got the same aerodynamic upgrade as Norris and made steady progress, ending the session in eighth.

Mercedes continues to struggle, but George Russell showed there’s some pace on the W14 by setting the fifth quickest time of the session, just over 0.3s behind Leclerc. His long run was similar to Piastri’s who was on the softer compound, so there’s work to do before they show the speed seen last Sunday in Singapore. Hamilton never managed to put a whole lap together, running, like Russell, two sets of Soft tyres and was down in 14th, unhappy with the balance of his car. His long run pace, however, was similar to Russell’s, so it’s the one-lap pace that has been missing for the seven times World Champion.

Fernando Alonso ended up P6 and gave hope to Aston Martin that the form lost in Singapore is back. His race pace was similar to Pérez’s, which is encouraging, but a few tenths per lap slower than Leclerc or Norris, so the Aston is unlikely to feature in the battle for a podium place.

Valtteri Bottas completed the top ten, the Finn much happier with the balance of his Alfa Romeo in the medium and high speed corners, thanks to the optimization of the upgrades introduced one week ago in Singapore. His program was compromised by having to cover for Zhou in the final ten minutes, the Chinese driver stuck in the pits with a suspected PU-related issue.

The session ended when there were still more than two minutes on the clock, after Pierre Gasly went off in Degner 2 while doing his race simulation. Although the Frenchman managed to straighten up his A523 before touching the wall and the impact with the tyre barrier was quite light, the left front wheel gripped against it and broke, causing quite a bit of damage to the front of the car, as the front wing, nosecone, suspension and steering were all broken.