The drivers and teams report back on Friday practice at the Formula 1 2018 Honda Japanese Grand Prix...
What the teams said - Practice in Japan
Mercedes got their weekend off to a perfect start, with Hamilton topping both sessions and Bottas just behind. Better news was that Hamilton’s soft-tyre run was quicker than title rival Vettel’s lap on the supersoft compound... but Mercedes were wary of overconfidence, with Friday a difficult day to fully judge who was running at full power and who was sandbagging.
Lewis Hamilton - FP1: 1:28.691, P1; FP2: 1:28.217, P1
"Every time we come to Suzuka, particularly over the last few years, the cars just get faster and faster, it's incredible. They don't make tracks like this anymore - there's very little room for runoff, a little touch of the grass and you're off in the wall. Suzuka has to be one of my favourite circuits, if not the favourite one, it's very cool. Especially the first and second sectors are insane, the first section is the best roller coaster ride that I've felt in a Formula One car. The balance was in quite a nice place, so I was just enjoying it. Every year I come back, there are always areas that I can improve, so I was like "There are two or three corners where I know that I need to kill it this year" and I got straight up to it. I was much better than I had ever been through those particular corners. Now I just have to stay on it, keep working; my team and I, we're working so well together in fine-tuning this car. I'm just loving driving more than ever; when you get in the car, it's just the best, it's so fast and I'm so grateful to have the opportunity to do what I do. I've just been giving thanks all day today because this is what I've always wanted to do."
Valtteri Bottas - FP1: 1:29.137, P2; FP2: 1:28.678, P2
"It's always good fun in Suzuka, this is such an enjoyable track to drive. The car also felt quite good, although for me it was better in FP1 than in FP2. We have a full night ahead to investigate all the changes we made and find the right set-up. But overall the car felt pretty good throughout all sectors, I just had some balance issues, struggling a bit with understeer. Overall it's a good starting point for the weekend, but it's hard to say where we stand in relation to the others. It always gets more intense in Qualifying, so we're going to work just as hard as usual to find all the improvements we can. The weather is likely to change tomorrow, so it was good for everyone that we had a dry Friday because it's supposed to be dry on Sunday as well. It's also going to be a lot warmer in the race, so that will be different, but at least we got enough running already in dry conditions, so it doesn't matter if it's wet tomorrow. Even in the dry it's very easy to make mistakes on this track; one small mistake and you're off. In the wet, it's ten times more difficult; Suzuka is one of the most challenging tracks in the wet. The track becomes much more unpredictable, especially when it rains hard or if there is standing water. So if Qualifying is wet tomorrow, it should be very interesting."
Andrew Shovlin, Trackside Engineering Director
"It's been a fairly straightforward day and happily the conditions stayed dry which allowed us to complete all the usual race preparation work. Both drivers are quite happy with the balance and the pace seems reasonably strong. However, it looks like we could face quite different conditions in qualifying and race. We're expecting some rain overnight and the wind looks strong tomorrow which could make things tricky for the drivers in qualifying. Then for Sunday we're expecting hot and sunny conditions. We've got good data on the tyres from today but it is never easy to predict exactly how they will behave on a much warmer track. The headline times from today do flatter us but we can still find some time working on the balance both on a single lap and a long run."
On paper, a poor day for the Scuderia. Vettel was a full eight-tenths of a second behind Hamilton on the same tyres in FP2, which doesn’t bode well for qualifying. Raikkonen was even further off the pace, but the Finn famously never buys into Friday form. Nonetheless, they do seem to have time to find overnight if they are to keep Vettel’s title hopes alive.
Sebastian Vettel - FP1: 1:29.685, P5; FP2: 1:29.050, P3
“All in all I am satisfied, as I think this Friday has been a smooth one for us, but we aren’t fast enough yet. Today we tried something with the car, which seemed to give a better feeling, so let’s see if we can carry this over tomorrow and find something else, too. Today I think the car slid a little bit too much, thus damaging the tyres, but I believe that, overall it was a clean session with no interruptions. We are trying to get the best out of our package, so we keep focusing on our job. Tonight we have to work hard because we need to be fast in qualifying. Obviously, if the others are as strong tomorrow as they were today, then it will be very hard, but we’ll see. Rain could make things more interesting tomorrow, but for now we keep working hard, doing our job and then we’ll see. It’s a long weekend and today is only Friday, so I am sure there’s still a bit to squeeze out of the car.”
Kimi Raikkonen - FP1: 1:29.627, P4; FP2: 1:29.498, P5
“This has been a normal Friday, both in terms of the things we tried and of engine usage. We have been focusing on trying to get the best set up for the car and towards the end of the session it felt better to drive, but for sure we have some work to do before tomorrow. I don’t know if it will be raining or not during P3 and qualifying, we’ll have to see what the weather brings.”
Ricciardo ran a long stint in FP2, gathering crucial data with Verstappen complaining about the set-up of his RB14. On pace they seem to be mixing it with the Ferrari boys, and having taken a slew of grid penalties last time out, will fancy their chances here of putting those new power unit components to full use.
Daniel Ricciardo - FP1: 1:29.373, P3; FP2: 1:29.513, P6
“It was a pretty solid day and there are some promising signs. On the low fuel runs we can be better but I don’t think we’re looking too bad. My sector one was slow as I had traffic on my fast lap and we can be better there for sure. On the straight we still lose a bit to the front runners, even if we ran the same downforce, they have a bit more power so coming up to Turn 1 we already lose a bit. We gain a little bit back in the corners but I think tomorrow if it’s dry you will see a better sector one from us. The long runs seemed more consistent and I was happier with that. Qualifying here is important as it’s not easy to overtake and there could be rain tomorrow, although they said it would rain today and it didn’t, so I don’t really know what to expect. Max ran a smaller rear wing to me today and we had different downforce levels, on one lap there may not be that much difference but I seemed happier with the car on the long runs. Everything ran well and it’s been fun. It’s a really good circuit and with these fast cars, as you can see from my smile, it’s very enjoyable.”
Max Verstappen - FP1: 1:29.841, P6; FP2: 1:29.257, P4
“We have some work to do ahead of tomorrow as I wasn’t totally satisfied with the feeling in the car today. Both short and long runs didn’t feel ideal, it may look closer on paper but I know we can improve. I was running a different rear wing to Daniel which meant less downforce. If we can find a compromise between straight line speed and rear grip then it will put us in a stronger position for the rest of the weekend. Here in Suzuka you need to be confident in the grip in order to attack the corners. It’s only Friday so we have time to make the changes and find a good balance ahead of qualifying. I think we can get close to Ferrari and challenge during the race but Mercedes seem too far ahead at the moment.”
Ocon performed well, finishing 'best of the rest' in seventh in both sessions. He did get frustrated by a perceived Vandoorne block in FP2, but other than that had a good day. Perez had a more up and down time – he lost control and half-spun in FP1 but managed a better session second time around to make Q3 look achievable come qualifying.
Sergio Perez – FP1: 1:31.272, P13; FP2: 1:30.510, P11
“It’s a super feeling to be driving at Suzuka in these cars. It’s one of the greatest tracks and every lap, even in practice, is really enjoyable. The day was pretty normal in terms of the work we did, but there is more to be done to make sure I feel comfortable with the car. We tried quite a lot of things with the set-up and we saw that Esteban was quite competitive so there is already a good baseline for tomorrow. Qualifying is going to be crucial. Putting together the perfect lap isn’t easy and I really want us to be up there as best of the rest tomorrow. The weather is uncertain, but we will just take it as it comes.”
Esteban Ocon - FP1: 1:30.591, P7; FP2: 1:30.035, P7
“It was a solid day of work to start our Suzuka weekend and I am happy with what we achieved. I am particularly excited because I think there’s still a bit more to come from our side and we can improve the car balance ahead of qualifying. This is a very difficult track to get right when it comes to the set-up, so it will be a challenge for us to get all the details right. The track is mega quick, even more so than last year. It’s very enjoyable to drive. Precision is very important as it’s very easy to make mistakes. You need to be at one with the car, which is never easy, but it’s so rewarding when you get it right.”
Otmar Szafnauer, Team Principal & CEO
“Despite an overcast sky the rain held off, but it was a cool day with low track temperatures. We split the test programme across both cars in FP1 and after that we focussed on race performance – mainly understanding the tyres compounds. We had a fuel system issue on Sergio’s car this afternoon, which cost us some track time, but on the whole the day ran smoothly. There is still some work to be done on the balance tomorrow morning to make sure we come out on top of a very tight midfield fight in qualifying.”
Renault’s pace dropped off last weekend and with fourth in the Constructors’ up for grabs, they need to turn around their slump fast. On today’s form it doesn’t look too good – no top 10 places across either session with both drivers complaining on the radio of various performance deficits. Can they reverse the trend tomorrow?
Nico Hulkenberg - FP1: 1:31.418, P15; FP2: 1:30.644, P12
“Suzuka is a great track to drive and it always puts a smile on my face. It was a pretty slick day behind the wheel and the car’s been working as we expected it to. The tyres were easy to understand in their performance, so now all we have to do is unlock the maximum performance from the set-up for tomorrow.”
Carlos Sainz - FP1: 1:31.100, P12; FP2: 1:30.904, P14
“In general I think it was a pretty straightforward Friday for us with no big issues. In the morning the car felt quite good and we completed a strong programme whilst in the afternoon we were lacking a bit of pace. We made changes through the day so I am confident we know where to look for those extra tenths. Having said that, we do need to work hard tonight if we want to be competitive for the rest of the weekend.”
Nick Chester, Chassis Technical Director
“A straightforward Friday for us where we’ve been able to run through our programme without interruption. We completed aero tests and setup comparisons with both cars before running Supersoft, Soft and Medium tyres. We have plenty of information to work on ahead of qualifying tomorrow.”
Alonso had a big moment in FP1, dropping a wheel wide and half spinning through the gravel as a result, showing just how punishing this circuit can be. He made amends in FP2, running a long programme on the medium and soft compounds without trying a qualifying run. Norris deputised for Vandoorne in FP1, keeping his nose clean and then the Belgian returned but couldn’t find the pace to light up the leaderboard.
Fernando Alonso - FP1: 1:32.034, P18; FP2: 1:30.988, P17
“It’s always nice to be back here.
“The circuit feels always amazing in these cars and today was good learning. Most of our preparation work today was on next year’s project, so a lot of information to gather about the car.
“Since Hungary, we have basically been using Friday sessions to do some tests to ensure that the car for next season works in the right way. This means it’s a little bit more frustrating in terms of finding the best performance this weekend, but it’s good information for the team – and we’ll see tomorrow where we are.
“The weather will play a big factor tomorrow and some rain would help us, as it looks like in dry conditions we’ll suffer.”
Stoffel Vandoorne - FP2: 1:31.981, P20
“It’s nice to be back in Suzuka. It’s a great circuit to drive on, and one of the best feelings we can have in a Formula 1 car. For me, I only did FP2 so I was getting to grips with the car and the circuit again, and putting the pieces together. We’ll see how everything pans out tomorrow.
“The focus for me was to try out all the tyre compounds today, and maybe tomorrow it will be raining so we’ll see what happens.
“Not being in FP1 gives you a bit of a different approach to the weekend. You have to rely on the data the team has gathered during FP1 even though you haven’t been in the car yourself, so you have to trust the direction they’re going in and go with the learning they have done.”
Lando Norris - FP1: 1:32.683, P20
“Today was fun. It’s my first time here in Japan and at Suzuka. It’s an awesome track, and probably the one I’ve most looked forward to this season, especially since I got told I was coming here. It’s definitely lived up to its expectations. The whole track is quite unique and especially the first sector – into Degner so Turn Eight and Turn Nine – so I was enjoying it a lot.
“It was a good experience today and I learned the track, so when I come back next year I’ll feel much more comfortable straight away. Today I was testing some different aero things on the car – some for next year and some for this weekend. There’s a lot of things learned from my side and for the team, so it’s been a good day.
“This would be a cool track in a Formula 3 or Formula 2 car, but it wouldn’t be as cool as it is in Formula 1. With the downforce and speeds you have in Formula 1 it’s pretty insane how quick it is. It takes you a few laps to prepare every corner because you don’t have time to react so easily to every left-right. It does take you a bit of time to get used to, but the whole track put together – especially the whole of Sector One and the beginning of Sector Two – makes it one of the best tracks I’ve driven.
“As much as FP1 is preparation for me next year, my job I still to drive well, not make mistakes, give good feedback to the engineers, and improve the car for this weekend and especially for next year. I’m doing all I can to make sure I’m not just enjoying it and having fun, but treating it like it’s my only session to prepare for a qualifying session. It’s about making sure every lap counts and not doing anything stupid.”
Gil de Ferran, Sporting Director
“Although we don’t look particularly competitive on the timesheets, today was a productive and trouble-free day.
“As usual, we ran through a variety of test items, set-up and tyre options, and collected a lot of data which hopefully will help us make good decisions overnight.
“The weather looks quite unsettled for tomorrow, which could turn qualifying into an exciting and unpredictable show.”
It was Magnussen’s birthday today, but the Dane didn’t get the present he was looking for after being beaten in both sessions by his team mate. Indeed, Grosjean found a good turn of pace to run solidly inside the top 10 despite complaining of understeer. If Haas can find the right set-up overnight, they will challenge Force India for midfield supremacy tomorrow.
Romain Grosjean - FP1: 1:30.814, P8; FP2: 1:30.440, P8
“It’s been a good day. It’s great that we got a lot of running in the dry – we were not expecting it. When we came in this morning, we thought that FP1 might be dry but FP2 would be wet. I think the weather’s getting better for tomorrow, as well. It’s such an amazing track to drive. You want to get as many laps as you can, so I’m very happy with that. The car seems to be working pretty well, on low fuel and high fuel. We have a few bits and pieces to adapt for tomorrow to make sure we get a bit of extra performance but, generally, I’m happy with the day.”
Kevin Magnussen - FP1: 1:31.274, P14; FP2: 1:30.956, P16
“It’s been a happy birthday. I’ve been driving a Formula One car around Suzuka. It’s been a decent day. We have some stuff to look at overnight. I think the car is up there. Force India looks a bit fast, but we’ll see how we go tomorrow. It’s very close in the midfield, but I haven’t really had any good laps in today. That’s often the case on Friday. Romain got some good laps and showed what the maximum is in the car – probably not quite as fast as the Force Indias, but up there, definitely. The balance isn’t perfect, but the grip is pretty good. That’s why we have some stuff to look at tonight to try and fine tune the details. Hopefully, we’ll find a little bit of time tomorrow.”
Guenther Steiner, Team Principal
“It was a good day of testing here at Suzuka. We completed our run program with both cars, and we hope it continues to stay dry for FP3 tomorrow. Overall, I think we’re in good shape. I’m looking forward to qualifying tomorrow afternoon.”
Sauber have been a team on the move and FP1 was no different, with both drivers finishing in the top 10. While Ericsson continued that trend in FP2, Leclerc dropped off the pace. But the youngster has proven that he can deliver when the pressure is on, so expect some hot laps in qualifying tomorrow.
Marcus Ericsson - FP1: 1:31.073, P10; FP2: 1:30.478, P9
“It was another good Friday. It is very nice to be back at Suzuka, driving on my favourite circuit. The car felt good today and overall we had two positive sessions. We seem to be quite competitive here and have a good foundation to build on for the rest of the weekend.”
Charles Leclerc - FP1: 1:30.929, P9; FP2: 1:30.906, P15
"The day was alright, with FP1 having been positive on my side and FP2 on Marcus’ side. This shows us that we can be competitive here, and that our car is quite strong. It is a shame that the second session did not run as smoothly for me as the first one did. We had a small mechanical issue at the beginning, and a lot of traffic ahead of us after that. We are now working on improvements to make the step forward that we usually do between Friday and Saturday. The track itself is very interesting and challenging, and I enjoyed driving here for the first time. It is all about timing and rhythm, and I look forward to being back in the car tomorrow to fight for a good result.”
Gasly was reprimanded for blocking Hamilton in FP1, and then sat out most of second practice with a fuel pressure issue. He did well to come out and manage a qualifying simulation as the session wound down. Hartley, meanwhile, completed a full programme and improved from first to second practice. Q2 should be on the cards – but could Toro Rosso even sneak a driver into Q3 at their engine supplier’s home race?
Pierre Gasly - FP1: 1:31.073, P11; FP2: 1:30.795, P13
“It was a good morning as I was able to do a few laps and get a good feeling with the car, which was positive. We had some really good data, but unfortunately we ran into some trouble this afternoon so we didn’t complete many laps in FP2. I was only able to do one push lap for performance and then a couple of laps for the long run, which means I didn’t learn too much. It’s good that Brendon had a clean session so we can use his data to improve the performance and get a good result for Qualifying tomorrow.”
Brendon Hartley - FP1: 1:31.908, P17; FP2: 1:30.502, P10
“I had a really enjoyable first day in Suzuka. I spent the first couple of runs in FP1 getting up to speed with the track and I really like it around here. We made a few changes during the session that was clearly in the right direction, and we made a good step to get the car more in line with how I like it for FP2. The pace looks quite competitive as I finished the session in P10, so it’s a positive feeling heading into tomorrow.”
Jonathan Eddolls, Chief Race Engineer
“We had a very productive FP1, carrying out aero and mechanical setup tests. Brendon completed some rake work for us during his installation lap, gathering data to further improve our correlation from track to wind tunnel and CFD. Japan is a very high speed circuit and can benefit from giving the car a very stable aero platform, so we brought new parts here to work on this. They worked well so they have stayed on both cars. The other major focus was on the re-introduction of the latest PU spec from Honda. They worked very hard on the dyno by improving the mapping and calibrations since Russia and these changes have all worked as expected. The drivability and performance of the latest PU have improved and we want to thank Honda for this.
"FP2 was a smooth and productive session for Brendon, the balance was better and he extracted a good lap from the car. Unfortunately, this afternoon’s session was not so fruitful for Pierre, as an issue within the fuel system developed on the last fire up before hitting the track, which required us to change parts within the cell. Normally, this would have taken at least two hours, but the mechanics did a fantastic job to get the parts changed in record time and allow Pierre to get out for a run at the end of the session. Obviously, this compromised it a lot as he was trying to set a fast lap with DRS while all other cars were on their race simulations. Even so, we found a small window in the traffic so Pierre could get a feel of the balance. The car is looking relatively competitive, so we will work hard tonight to ensure we have smooth running from FP3 onwards.”
Toyoharu Tanabe, Honda F1 Technical Director
“After taking our drivers to visit several Honda facilities over the past three days, where they received a warm welcome, it’s good to be on track for our home race. The latest version of our PU, which we first used on Friday in Sochi, has produced encouraging data today. It’s a big improvement and validates the tuning work we carried out on this new PU since Russia. Unfortunately, Pierre lost some track time in FP2 with a fuel system issue, but at this point in the weekend, it’s not too critical.”
On pace, it looks like another uphill battle for Williams here this weekend. Sirotkin rode his luck over the kerbs, damaging the floor of his FW41, but despite pushing as hard as he could just didn’t have the pace to climb up the timing sheets. Likewise Stroll delivered a lot of laps without threatening the midfield runners.
Sergey Sirotkin - FP1: 1.32.513, P19; FP2: 1:31.087, P18
"Today was my first time in an F1 car around Suzuka and it was mega. I know there’s a lot of speculation about how good it is, but it really is pretty amazing. It’s a mega experience for me and I really enjoyed it as it’s a very demanding track. To do a qualifying lap requires all your physical and mental energy, and unfortunately, I think this is what we sometimes miss a lot from modern F1 tracks. It’s a pleasure to face this challenge here. I think we need to look a bit closer at today’s performance. I ran on supersofts during FP1 and as you can imagine, there was not much left from the tyre at the end, it’s the softest tyre in the range. I think we’re in a reasonable position, so if we do everything right, and the conditions suit us, we’ll be on the edge of the Q1 cut-off. It will be a mega job if we do it, but that’s the target."
Lance Stroll - FP1: 1:31.508, P16; FP2: 1:31.215, P19
"It was good today. It is always fun driving here, as the track is just mega and in my top three. As regards pleasure in the car, this track is up there as one of the best and you can really feel the car working. We will see what tomorrow brings, there may be a bit of rain, but we have to sort out a few things to be a bit more competitive. I think getting into Q2 will be challenging, but we will try as you never know. For sure rain would be nice just to mix things up."
Paddy Lowe, Chief Technical Officer
"We started this morning working through some rake running and testing some high-exhaust aero parts on the car. We also did some rear-wing testing between both cars, but predominantly FP1 was all about familiarising ourselves with the track. We’ve got two young drivers, so we tried to get as much running around here as possible as Suzuka is one of the trickier circuits to learn. We had a fairly standard programme for FP2 with Lance running the soft compound and Sergey the harder medium tyre. We elected to change the rear wing-level during the session on Lance’s car for a trial that meant we altered our run plan to accommodate. Overall, we got a lot of good running done, both drivers are reasonably happy with the balance and the pace is around about where we expected it to be."
Mario Isola, Head of Car racing
“The teams benefitted from unexpectedly dry weather to gather plenty of information about all three compounds here, on a slightly more aggressive surface than generally anticipated, with each tyre potentially forming part of a viable race strategy for Sunday. This obviously includes the supersoft, with the softest choice in Japan this weekend being far less extreme than the hypersoft tyre nominated at the last two races. This means that there will be a different approach to strategy and tyre choices, when it comes to qualifying as well, as already seen by the quite mixed choices made by different teams in their tyre selections for the grand prix here. There are still some question marks to consider – especially if Sunday’s race conditions turn out to be quite different to today or tomorrow – so it’s hard to make any more detailed predictions for now.”