RACE DEBRIEF

    Carlos Sainz finished at the head of the midfield in both Friday practice sessions for the Japanese Grand Prix, despite what he described as a 'heart attack' moment when his McLaren stopped in FP1...

    Sainz slowed to a halt at Turn 1 just seconds after Free Practice 1 had started, leading to the marshals pushing his car uphill into the pit lane as the Virtual Safety Car was brought out. But the Spaniard recovered to finish seventh in both sessions, only a tenth ahead of Sergio Perez in FP1 but nearly three tenths ahead of the Racing Point driver in FP2.

    READ MORE: The art of tackling Suzuka’s Esses

    “Yeah, it started off with a little heart attack there,” said Sainz as he recalled his FP1 issue. “I was thinking I was going to miss the whole of FP1. Luckily it was just a connection of a sensor and immediately we were back out and we could complete FP1 without any issues and FP2 without any issues again.”

    Sainz's McLaren appeared to be lacking top speed in Suzuka, which was hampering the Spaniard in Sector 3, which includes the famous 130R and the preceding straight. Sector 1 is a whole different ballgame, however, where the McLaren feels right at home as it skates through the Esses.

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    “The car is responding well into Sector 1 here which is always nice. And then Sectors 2 and 3 are nothing special but we’re making all the time in Sector 1… unfortunately we’re very slow in Sector 3, in the chicane and on the straight.

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    “So it’s a compromise. Our car lately looks to respond well in higher downforce and it looks to be working well in higher downforce so we are playing around a bit with that,” he said.

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    Although 130R has been the site of some sensational manoeuvres in the past, Sainz wasn’t concerned that he’ll lose places there come Sunday’s qualifying and race. McLaren have therefore e taken a calculated decision to set his MCL34 up with a high-downforce package.

    “That’s why we are nothing special in Sector 3,” he said, “but if that does mean we qualify in P7 then it’s the right decision.”

    McLaren, currently sitting in fourth, will be buoyed by rival team Renault’s apparent lack of performance at Suzuka, with Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg finishing FP2 in Suzuka in P17 and P18 respectively.

    FP1 HIGHLIGHTS: 2019 Japanese Grand Prix