What the teams said - Friday in Japan
Verstappen was quick from word go at Suzuka, topping the timing sheets on both the hard and soft tyres. Perez had a scrappier session, running wide twice and struggling for pace compared to his team mate. Roll on FP2 and it was more of the same, Verstappen quick and the class of the field while Perez couldn’t match his team mate’s times. There were rumours that the duo were running different spec floors, as Red Bull experimented with set ups that might explain some of the differences in time between Verstappen and Perez.
Max Verstappen - FP1: 1:31.647, P1; FP2: 1:30.688, P1
"It felt really good today, from lap one the car was enjoyable to drive again. We've had a strong day on the short and long runs. There's a lot of degradation on this track so it will be quite tough on tyres during the race, but so far, we’ve had a good start to the weekend. The competition looks tight but for now we'll focus on ourselves and try to optimise our performance, if we do that, I'm confident that we can fight for pole tomorrow."
Sergio Perez - FP1: 1:33.043, P11; FP2: 1:31.710, P9
“It was a very interesting Friday. This morning we went a bit off balance, but we now have a very good understanding of the direction we need to take. Things are certainly looking much better than they did last weekend, which is positive. The tyre degradation seems to be quite high at this circuit, especially with the hot temperatures we are expecting. I look forward to qualifying; I believe we are going to be strong tomorrow and on Sunday.”
Sainz was the pick of the two Ferrari drivers in FP1, three tenths quicker than his team mate. But Leclerc turned the tables in FP2 which leaves those two pretty evenly balanced. They seem to have a slight edge on McLaren, and look strong over one lap as they so often do. The only hiccup was Sainz getting a splattering of flow-vis paint from the back of Piastri’s car in FP1, adding a ‘Jackson Pollock’ vibe to his helmet design.
Charles Leclerc - FP1: 1:32.574, P4; FP2: 1:31.008, P2
"We seem to be slightly closer to our competitors than expected, so it was quite a positive day overall. On my side, we tried out a few different things on the car to make me a bit more comfortable, which was good. I’m looking forward to confirming that feeling tomorrow."
Carlos Sainz - FP1: 1:32.273, P2; FP2: 1:1.237, P4
"This weekend the gaps to our closest rivals seem very close, therefore back to where we were in previous races, with Red Bull very strong again. On my side, we’re still fine tuning the car a lot and today we tested many different set-ups to try to find the best compromise for this track.
"We have a lot of data to look into and tonight we'll need to decide what settings to run tomorrow, trying to put the car in the right performance window. We have a couple of interesting days ahead of us."
McLaren left it late to bolt on the softs in FP1, but when they did Norris looked pretty quick. As for Piastri, he had a pretty big moment, a snap midway through the corner which he just about managed to save. But in FP2, both drivers looked quick from the word go as Piastri got to grips with the latest upgrade package. With Norris in third and Piastri also in the top 10, McLaren are backing up their strong form from Singapore with aplomb.
Lando Norris - FP1: 1:32.392, P3; FP2: 1:31.152, P3
“A positive day. I think our car is feeling reasonable. The balance is a bit all-over-the-place in these very low grip conditions, but I think it’s a problem the whole grid has. I’m finding small improvements here and there. The speed is relatively good and if we can tidy some things up, I think we can have a good day tomorrow.”
Oscar Piastri - FP1: 1:32.713, P7; FP2: 1:31.662, P8
“A decent first day in Japan. I really enjoyed the circuit; it was a lot of fun. There are still some things I want to work on, but it’s been a good first day, and as a team, I think it’s been a positive Friday. I’m looking forward to tomorrow. Hopefully, we can improve a few things, but it’s been a good start.”
Andrea Stella, Team Principal
“We’ve had a clean, productive first day at Suzuka. The team was able to complete our programme with no major issues for either car. The track presents some interesting challenges for set-up. The tyre degradation is high, but the grip level is low, so, there’s a few things we need to look into tonight, but overall the MCL60 seems to be behaving well. We’ll take a good look tonight at the information we acquired today, with a view to being as well-prepared as we can be for the rest of the weekend.”
Mercedes were one of two teams not to run the soft tyres in FP1, leaving Hamilton and Russell down the order as a result. But when they did finally bolt on the red-marked rubber, they couldn’t make as much headway as they’d have liked. Russell at least was in the mix, but Hamilton was very much not. They look to have work to do overnight if they want to jump up the order and get into the mix with the likes of Ferrari and McLaren.
Lewis Hamilton – FP1: 1:33.699, P16; FP2: 1:31.829, P14
“It was a very challenging day for us out there. I had a lack of confidence in the car and that contributed to our struggles. It was difficult to find the right balance and we didn’t manage to get on top of it by the end of FP2. The tyres were overheating and that left us quite far off the top of the timing sheets.
“We know we’ve got a lot of work to do tonight to pick up the performance. I do believe we can make improvements though. We have had similar Friday’s this season and come back stronger on Saturday. We will see tomorrow if we have done so again. We will be putting in the effort this evening to give us every chance of getting ourselves higher up the order.”
George Russell - FP1: 1:33.310, P13; FP2: 1:31.328, P5
“It feels great to back driving around Suzuka. It’s such an incredible circuit. It’s been a slightly strange Friday for us. The track seemed to have very low grip, particularly in FP1, so the car is sliding around quite a lot. That doesn’t give you the best feeling in the world as a driver. Particularly when you’ve got plenty of high-speed corners to tackle. The race on Sunday will also be interesting as tyre degradation looks very high.
“In terms of the relative order, the Red Bull looks to have returned to its normal pace at the front. They have been exceptionally quick today. I think we are likely half-a-step behind the Ferraris and the McLaren of Lando Norris at present. We’ve got a bit of work to do tonight to close that gap. We are typically strong at finding those performance gains so we can be optimistic of improving for tomorrow.”
Andrew Shovlin, Trackside Engineering Director
“We’ve certainly been on the back foot today. Both FP1 and FP2 proved tricky sessions for us. Both drivers reported struggling with an overall lack of grip and the balance of the car. We made some changes ahead of the second session and gained some useful learnings from that. However, we know we must make improvements overnight.
“We are clearly not strong enough in the faster corners, with the first sector proving a particular weakness for us. That’s where the majority of our work will be focused this evening. George did find some improvement on the single lap in FP2, but we are facing the same challenges on both our qualifying pace and the long run. In a sense that is encouraging. If we can fix one, the other should improve too. However, we are not underestimating the work we’ve got to do to be stronger over the rest of the weekend.”
Stroll returned to the Aston Martin cockpit which was good to see and completed a full programme in both sessions, with no ill effects. He was on the cusp of the top 10 in both sessions in a solid opening. Alonso fared slightly better, coming home sixth in the two practice sessions but with McLaren looking strong again, it might be a challenge for the Spaniard to get much higher up the order.
Fernando Alonso – FP1: 1:32.650, P6; FP2: 1:31.492, P6
“It’s tricky to read where we are after today, but the car felt good to drive around here. Formula 1 cars are made for this type of circuit and it is always great to drive at Suzuka. We need to look at the data tonight to see what we can do ahead of the rest of the weekend. Our aim is to make Q3 in qualifying tomorrow, continuing our streak of appearances, but it looks tight with how close the field is.”
Lance Stroll - FP1: 1:33.040, P10; FP2: 1:31.771, P11
“Suzuka is such a special track – probably my favourite – so I’ve enjoyed being out there today. After last weekend, it was good to immediately feel comfortable back behind the wheel. We made some set-up changes between practice sessions and the car was feeling good by the end of FP2, but there are definitely a few more bits to look at overnight as we aim to extract the maximum out of the package. Q3 has to be the qualifying target here, but we know the field has been super tight recently so we’ll need to keep pushing hard.”
Albon was definitely pushing the boundaries out there, running wide over the high kerbs on a number of occasions and reporting back that he had definitely damaged his floor at one point. At a track that wasn’t expected to wildly suit the FW45, it was a good day for Albon who finished in the top 10 in both sessions. Sargeant is the second man here – along with Piastri – who has never driven this track, so he took more time to get accustomed to the demanding figure-8 layout.
Logan Sargeant - FP1: 1:34.212, P19; FP2: 1:32.320, P20
“It was really cool to drive in Suzuka for the first time but not easy at all, particularly in Sector 1. There’s a lot of work trying to dial in the car. I feel like it’s not easy to get everything you need around here, so it’s a work in progress but a good step forward from FP1 to FP2. From a driving point of view, I need to link the first sector up as it’s where I’m losing the most time. From a car point of view, there’s a few tweaks to try and have a better balance from low speed to high speed. We’ve experienced quite high deg today and it hasn’t been easy to have a consistent balance throughout the long runs. However, on low fuel runs the grip is high and feels pretty good.”
Alex Albon - FP1: 1:32.991, P8; FP2: 1:31.555, P7
“It was okay today. As we expected, the low fuel pace feels good, it’s the long run pace that we are struggling with, so we need to figure that out as the deg is high. We’re going to go back to the drawing board a little bit; we might need to compromise our qualifying car a little bit for our race car, but let’s see.”
Dave Robson, Head of Vehicle Performance
“We’ve had a good day here in Suzuka. It’s always difficult to find the right compromises here and with the hot conditions, the tyres are under a lot of stress, which is causing high degradation. We haven’t got the trade between low fuel and high fuel pace quite right yet but there are things that we can do to improve that overnight. Logan has driven well all day and as a result, both drivers have got a good understanding of the trades that they can make.
“The conditions are likely to remain fairly stable for the next couple of days, so we are in a good position to improve the car. It is going to be close in qualifying and the race will require a lot of management, but we should be able to get ourselves into a strong position.”
It was all going relatively well for Alpine – while they weren’t lighting up the timing sheets, they were working through their programme steadily and keeping their true pace under wraps as they so often do on Fridays. But late on, Gasly locked up and ran straight on into the barriers at Degner 2, wiping off his front wing and breaking his suspension for good measure. It was a relatively big accident considering it happened at quite a low speed, and Gasly can count himself slightly unlucky as a result.
Esteban Ocon - FP1: 1:33.516, P15; FP2: 1:31.794, P12
“It’s always a real pleasure to come back to Suzuka and drive around this iconic circuit; it’s probably my favourite of the year. It was a busy day in the car today and we have learned a lot out on track in both sessions. We also saw some good improvements from Free Practice 1 to Free Practice 2 and we put in some competitive lap times in the afternoon session. It only takes three or four tenths to gain a few positions, so it’s extremely close amongst a number of cars. We have some work to do overnight and hopefully we can be in a good position tomorrow to have another strong Qualifying.”
Pierre Gasly - FP1: 1:33.129, P12; FP2: 1:32.179, P19
“At this stage of the race weekend, I would say we have some work to do and I’m sure there’s more to come from us. Unfortunately, our day ended with a small off at Turn 9 right at the end of Free Practice 2. I just lost the front slightly and I could not correct it in time and that meant we slid through the gravel and into the barrier. We will learn from it and move on. In terms of today’s performance, there are a lot of things we can assess both on low and high fuel. The tyres are quite challenging and it’s something we’ll certainly aim to get on top of ready for the rest of the weekend. It’s an extremely tight pack with one or two tenths of a second splitting a lot of cars, so extracting every detail tomorrow will count.”
Tsunoda found himself in traffic yet again, voicing his frustrations over the radio in FP1. But aside from that, both AlphaTauri drivers looked pretty quick out there in the opening session. Roll on FP2, and the duo fell down the order somewhat as others unleashed more of their true pace. But it was nonetheless a decent day’s work from AlphaTauri, and it remains to be seen what extra pace Tsunoda might find on home soil.
Liam Lawson - FP1: 1:33.005, P9; FP2: 1:32.141, P15
“Singapore and Suzuka are very different circuits, so it’s tricky to say much about the upgrades at this stage. As I said before the weekend started, it takes a bit of time to really maximise the change, and we're continuing to learn about where we can improve. FP2 wasn’t as strong as this morning, so it’s been a little tricky so far, but we don’t know what other teams are doing exactly. I think it helps to know the track from Super Formula, especially this early in the weekend, because we can spend more time on car performance. By qualifying and the race, you’ve had enough time to learn. It’s a more traditional circuit, and although it’s been a tricky day, we still have FP3 tomorrow morning.”
Yuki Tsunoda - FP1: 1:32.597, P5; FP2: 1:32.178, P18
“We’ve felt the effects of the upgrades we had brought to Singapore, but so far, we haven’t been as competitive as we would’ve liked, so we have to look through the data. I feel like there’s margin for improvement, so we’ll do some analysis tonight. I’m looking forward to qualifying tomorrow because it’s the fastest time of the weekend, and especially at Suzuka, you feel the true Formula 1 performance. I’ll enjoy it, hopefully make it into Q3, and make the fans happy.”
Jonathan Eddolls, Chief Race Engineer
"It has been a quick turnaround between events, but the welcome we've received from the Japanese fans in support of both our drivers has been fantastic and given everyone in the team a well-deserved boost! The focus of the day was to continue to learn about the new package we introduced in Singapore, but this time at a more typical track, one which favours a car with good overall load and efficiency. In FP1, we started with a rake fitted to Yuki's car and then tested removing some mirror vanes on Liam's car. The package continues to behave as expected and has brought a step in performance. Each driver was given two extra sets of development tyres, which we could run at our leisure, so it was a busy Friday programme with plenty of new tyres! Yuki was struggling more in the high speed and Liam in the low speed in FP1, so both cars made changes to the setup for FP2 to address these issues. The balance improved on both cars, but we still weren't completely happy, and it looks like Sector 1 will be our main focus for tomorrow. Tyre degradation is very high at this track, and quickly, we were thermally limited. In preparation for Sunday, we'll have to investigate additional management techniques to help make the target stint lengths work."
Alfa were the second team not to run the softs in FP1, instead working on longer runs and fiddling with set up changes. But come the afternoon session, Bottas did bolt on the soft tyre and looked pretty quick as he often does on Fridays. Zhou couldn’t follow suit thanks to a hydraulic leak that curtailed his session in frustrating fashion.
Valtteri Bottas - FP1: 1:33.860, P17; FP2: 1:31.739, P10
“We had a positive Friday overall: it is always good fun around here in Suzuka, and I am glad to be back on track. I feel like we made some progress through our upgrades and the learnings from Singapore, getting to unlock a bit more performance from the new package and optimising the car in terms of setup. The feeling, as said, is positive, but our job doesn’t stop here: we need to keep learning from the car, analysing the data we’ve gathered today and trying to optimise it ahead of tomorrow. I reckon most of our competitors are going to get better tomorrow, but it looks like we have more solid chances to do well in qualifying than we did in Singapore.”
Zhou Guanyu - FP1: 1:34.831, P20; FP2: 1:32.165, P16
“Today has been quite okay from my side: I feel like we made a concrete step forward in terms of performance compared to where we were last weekend, and the top ten feels more within reach for us here. Towards the end of the second practice session, I suffered an issue on the brakes, on which we promptly investigated upon my return to the garage. We tested different setups on both cars throughout the sessions, and we gathered a decent amount of data and some terms of comparison, which will be useful tonight, as we will be working on figuring out which setup works best to fine-tune it ahead of tomorrow.”
Magnussen fell foul of traffic not once but twice, as he battled his way around this quite tight circuit. It was Sainz who earned most of his ire in FP1, the Spaniard on the receiving end of a very sarcastic thumbs up from the Haas driver. Hulkenberg kept out of trouble by comparison and looked at home at a track he hasn’t raced at since 2019, beating his team mate in both sessions.
Nico Hulkenberg - FP1: 1:33.448, P14; FP2: 1:31.797, P13
“It was a good Friday still, but it’s complex. The characteristics of this track are that it’s very fast, very flowing with long corners, and that’s not been a strength for us. It exposes the weaknesses of the car, but we’ll be working hard overnight to see what we can achieve tomorrow.”
Kevin Magnussen – FP1: 1:33.975, P18; FP2: 1:32.169, P17
“It’s not the best track for us. For the weakness of our car, it’s the type of corners that this track has many of – those long entry and exit combined – that we don’t like so much. It’s going to be a difficult weekend but as I always say, we’ll try to do our best anyway.”
Guenther Steiner, Team Principal
“In general, it was a good day today. Obviously, performance-wise we don’t know where we stack-up but it is what it is on that side, otherwise we went through our test program. I think the guys got the best out of the car we’ve got, and that’s the most important thing at the moment, to have solid practice sessions to get us prepared as best as possible.”
Simone Berra, Chief Engineer
"There was a lot going on today in Suzuka, on a track that is always particularly challenging for the tyres. In fact, apart from the usual job list, we ran a test with a new version of one compound for 2024 and it was important to be able to work with the teams to try and gather as much data as possible. Therefore, we thank them and the drivers who collaborated fully in adding this test to their usual work programme. Over 1300 kilometres was completed on this prototype C2 and from the initial feedback it seems it is not delivering the potential for improvement in terms of the grip we wanted to achieve, but obviously, now all this information will have to be analysed carefully before reaching a final decision.
"As for the trio of compounds we have here in Suzuka, initial indications are that the level of wear is very good, while the thermal degradation is rather high, albeit in line with our expectations given the surface temperature, which has always been around the 40°C mark and the characteristics of the track. Therefore, if going into this event the difference between a one and a two stop strategy was very tight, today the balance is definitely swinging in favour of the latter."