What the teams said – Qualifying in Japan
Verstappen topped FP3 to sweep the practice sessions, and never really looked a doubt for pole. The only question was by how much he would take it. Having made it through Q1 and Q2 using just one set of tyres, he had two fresh sets for Q3 and managed to stick his RB19 into P1 by well over half a second for the biggest margin here in 19 years. Perez couldn’t match that – the Mexican like most of the field unable to come close. He had to settle for fifth, behind the McLarens and the Ferrari of Leclerc.
Max Verstappen, 1st, 1:28.877
“It’s been a crazy weekend so far, we’ve been on another level. The car was on the rails and I could really push it to the limit. I fully sent it today. When the car is good it makes the track feel even more special, it really bought a big smile to my face. I only had three sets of new tyres so had to be careful with how I used them. Looking ahead to tomorrow, degradation will be high so we need to look after our tyres. It won’t be straightforward that's for sure. The aim is to win the constructors’ championship this weekend, especially on Honda’s home turf.”
Sergio Perez, 5th, 1:29.542
“It wasn’t as straightforward as we were expecting it to be today. I had quite a scrappy qualifying and we have struggled a bit with the balance of the car over the weekend. Ultimately, losing our second set of tyres in Q2 and going into Q3 with a single set really put us on the back foot. We thought we didn’t have the margin, so ultimately it meant that we missed out. Today wasn’t ideal, but we gave it our very best and I really believe that we can still have a strong race tomorrow. McLaren have a strong race pace, so I think it will be a good battle with them tomorrow. Finally, Max has also been on really good form and we are looking forward to the race day tomorrow; hopefully we can come home with the championship and finish in P1 and P2 tomorrow.”
Christian Horner, Team Principal
“We witnessed something very special today. Max was in a different league. He had three sets of tyres. His first lap in Q1 was quick. Q2, on scrubs, was also quick and then he had two new tyres in Q3 which turned in that incredible performance. I encourage you to look at the replay on the final lap and focus on Turns 5, 6 and then that high speed section. It really was quite outstanding and you have to take your hat off to him. Checo drove well. Starting in fifth means he will have a little more work to do, but he has good race pace, a strong car, he can overtake well here, so that should set him up for a good race.”
McLaren looked quick today, and it soon became apparent that their two drivers were going to be Verstappen’s closest challengers. They made it all the way to Q3 with two spare sets of softs, the only ones to do so bar Verstappen. On their first runs, Piastri nailed his lap to pip his team mate and then both over-pushed on their second runs, running out of tyre life and so not improving. As a result, Piastri has his first Grand Prix front row start, which is doubly impressive considering he’s never raced at this track.
Lando Norris, 3rd, 1:29.493
“It’s been a very good day for us as a team getting P2 and P3. It was a great job by Oscar and, as usual, by Max, but a good day for us. I was pretty happy with my laps. It’s tricky, it’s not an easy circuit to put everything together always, but it’s so quick around here, the smallest mistake can make a big amount of lap time. I’m happy. It’s been a good day, and we have good positions for tomorrow.”
Oscar Piastri, 2nd, 1:29.458
“The first lap in Q3 was pretty solid. I was quite happy with it. On the last chicane, I could have done a better job, but it was a good lap. On the second lap, my first sector was good and the next two sectors not so good, so happy to end it in P2. It’s been a really good weekend for the team so far, we’ve got upgrades on the cars and they’re quick here. We thought we might have a decent chance but still had to make it happen. So, happy to be second and for the team to be second and third. Very, very happy.”
Andrea Stella, Team Principal
“P2 and P3 is a great day for McLaren, so we are delighted by this result. It shows the progress of the car on a track that rewards overall car performance. Well done again to everyone at McLaren for making sure we have the material available for both our drivers; thanks to this we have two drivers up there today.
“It was a tricky session, it is easy to make little mistakes here and there, so well done to Oscar and Lando for maximising the package. We still have more than a half a second deficit to Verstappen, so we need to keep our feet on the ground as it gives us the measure of how much work we still have to do. We now focus on tomorrow, and hopefully, we can capitalise on a good qualifying.”
Ferrari fell off the pace in FP3, and looked the third quickest team on paper. That’s how it panned out in qualifying, with both drivers making Q3 with ease but not having the pace to challenge Red Bull or McLaren. Leclerc at least pipped Perez, and also got the better of his team mate for the first time since the summer break.
Charles Leclerc, 4th, 1:29.542
"I’m happy with my lap, because it was the maximum we could have done today. We lost the most in sector 1, so we will look into that and try to understand what we can work on to improve. With the warm temperatures here this year, the risk of overheating is higher than usual, which means that tyre management and strategy will be key tomorrow.
"Red Bull have been very fast all weekend and McLaren seem to have a similar race pace as we do, so it will be important to get the start right."
Carlos Sainz, 6th, 1:29.850
"It was a difficult qualifying today. We knew before coming here that this track would expose our weakness a bit more and, with its high speed characteristics and long corners, we knew it was never going to be easy. I’ve tried many different things and set-ups since yesterday, with the aim of putting the car in a better place, but it clearly didn’t work. I didn’t do a good lap in Q3 either, so we’ll start P6 tomorrow.
"We’ll fight to get some good points tomorrow and we’ll be ready to grab any opportunities."
Fred Vasseur, Team Principal
"Today’s result is not too bad, but our session started on the back foot in Q1 as we wasted a set of Softs because of the red flag triggered by Sargeant. It meant both our drivers had just one new set of tyres each for Q3 and so they had to give it their best shot on just one run and Charles managed to get within eight hundredths of the front row.
"It’s been clear from the start of the weekend that, apart from Red Bull, McLaren also has excellent pace, but ours was not bad on Friday and in qualifying, with lower temperatures than in the morning free practice, we were in better shape, even if it’s generally much hotter than usual this year in Suzuka.
"We are starting ahead of our closest rivals in the fight for second place in the Constructors’ championship and we must make the most of our grid positions. So we will be looking for a clean start in order to run a strategy that allows us to look after our tyres. We continue to bring updates to our car, as we want to fight all the way to the very end."
Hamilton had been despondent overnight with his form and that of his car, but seemed much more in the mix in FP3, pipping his team mate. He did likewise in qualifying, going for his fresh tyre run later than Russell in Q3. He has said qualifying is where he’s struggled this season, so beating Russell by three-tenths is a decent result – one chastened by the fact they are so far off the pace of the Red Bull of Verstappen.
Lewis Hamilton, 7th, 1:29.908
"We did some great work overnight and the changes we made felt good in FP3. The car has generally felt nice to drive today. That was a relief as yesterday was a bad day. We typically have at least one suboptimal day each weekend, so Friday was likely that.
"I felt much more confident with the car in FP3, and I was giving it everything in Qualifying. The first sector was the major difference though. We had a seven tenths deficit through it and it’s mostly to do with the lack of rear-end grip we have. I was happy with my laps, even the runs on the used tyre. A track like this is one of the most challenging to drive anywhere in the world. It’s amazing, even when the car is a little bit difficult. My final lap was enjoyable, but the cars ahead were just too quick compared to us. Let’s hope for a better race tomorrow."
George Russell, 8th, 1:30.219
"Today was a fair representation of how we perform on circuit that have similar characteristics to Suzuka. There’s a large range of corners where we have plenty of high-speed and some very low speed turns too. Our car isn’t the strongest across the full range of corners, so we have been struggling a little more here, particularly in sector one. We saw last week in Singapore that if we can find the sweet spot of the car on tracks requiring high downforce then we can fight at the front. That is not the case here.
"Tomorrow’s race I expect to be challenging. Our race pace will likely be similar to our single lap pace. The gaps may close up a little but not substantially. We do have the option to try some different strategy options, having two hard tyres in our allocation. McLaren and Ferrari may not have the same freedom. However, I only expect it to only be a small advantage."
Andrew Shovlin, Trackside Engineering Director
"We made several changes overnight, designed to improve the performance of the car through the first sector. That was where we were particularly weak yesterday. We did find some gains but ultimately, our performance today can mainly be attributed to the corner speed range we see here at Suzuka. Over the course of the year, we’ve done a good job of adding performance in the lower speed corners. However here, and in particular that first sector, you need a lot of downforce in a certain ride height range. The W14 isn’t the strongest car in that area and that helps explain our deficit today.
"Our nearest competitors in the championship are Ferrari. We will have an eye on them strategically tomorrow as they line up ahead of us, and hopefully we can be in a race with them. We came here thinking that tyre degradation would be high. That looked to be the case on Friday and even earlier today in FP3. Our second set of Hard tyres means that we can look at strategies and stints that they possible cannot. Hopefully we can exploit that. We will ultimately find out in that first stint how the degradation is looking and its impact on the race."
Tsunoda made it all the way to Q3 on home soil, eclipsing the P13 he managed in qualifying last year. After a difficult couple of races where he hasn’t completed a single lap, starting in the top 10 tomorrow should augur for better things as he celebrates renewing his contract for next season. As for Lawson, he was oh so close, missing out by 0.043s and in the end, was hampered by running three sets of tyres in Q1.
Liam Lawson, 11th, 1:30.508
“It’s a bit frustrating not making it to Q3 by such a small margin. With the information we had after Free Practice, we weren’t expecting to be super strong, so we went quite aggressive with tyres in Q1 and only had one new set of the soft compound tyres left for Q2. To be honest, I wasn’t super confident before qualifying, so I think we made the right call with the information we had, and Yuki did a great job putting the car in Q3. Now it’s about making the most of tomorrow’s race. I think it will be a long afternoon because the tyres are struggling a lot, but it’s the same for everybody. We have to focus on extracting the maximum out of our package and hopefully, both Yuki and I will have a strong race.”
Yuki Tsunoda, 9th, 1:30.303
“It’s incredibly special to get through to Q3 at your home Grand Prix. It was the first time in front of the Japanese fans, and the amount of support I felt in my final runs was great. I’ve never felt that kind of support from spectators. A big thank you to them, but an even bigger thanks to my team. It wasn’t easy because we struggled in Free Practice on Friday, but the team did an amazing job of finding improvements. The car was great and really fun to drive, so I’m looking forward to tomorrow. I haven’t raced with the new package in Singapore, but Liam did a good job last weekend and performed nicely, so I’m not worried about the race. I’ll go out and enjoy tomorrow with all the fans. It will be tricky because tyre degradation seems to be a challenge here, but it’s the same for everyone, so let’s see what we can do. Liam and I are both starting in good positions, so hopefully, we’ll both be able to score points for the team.”
Jonathan Eddolls, Chief Race Engineer
“The engineers put a lot of work into the analysis overnight to understand why we took a step back in FP2 and weren't able to show the expected pace. This culminated in a number of setup changes to evaluate in FP3. The changes improved the car, but our tyre usage of a medium set followed by a soft tyre set dictated what we wanted to save for qualifying. It was more difficult to know exactly where we were because most others ran two sets of the soft compound during practice. We weren't able to extract the most from the soft tyre, so we had some work to do to understand how to approach qualifying with the lower expected track temperature. With both drivers having five sets of the soft compound, we decided the safest thing for Liam was to use three soft tyre sets in Q1. The red flag came on the out lap of his second run, but there was time remaining at the restart to do two runs with a pitstop. The team reacted well to this, and both cars comfortably went through. In Q2, the drivers gave it their all. It was very, very close in the region we were fighting, but having the extra new soft tyre set allowed Yuki to extract enough performance to progress through to Q3, with Liam just missing out by 43 milliseconds. The wind increased slightly, and we weren't able to improve on our Q2 lap in Q3. In the end, we're within one-tenth of the Mercedes in front and leading the midfield pack in qualifying, so the team should be proud that we continue to develop and improve the AT04. Tomorrow will be a different story, and I expect tyre degradation to be a big challenge with the high track temperatures and heavy fuel. We're at a slight disadvantage to most teams by having only one hard compound set, but we'll work on a strategy to maximise the race result within the constraints we have.“
Aston Martin are struggling for pace here in Japan. Lance Stroll couldn’t get out of Q1 for the third straight race, but at least wasn’t P20 as he has been at the last two Grands Prix. Alonso also couldn’t extract much performance from his car, scraping into P10 by the skin of his teeth. He opted for just the one run midway through Q3 before the track had fully evolved, but couldn’t make inroads into that top 10.
Fernando Alonso, 10th, 1:30.560
“It was difficult for us to find any more pace today. I extracted the maximum from my laps and I'm happy to keep my run of Q3 appearances going. From track to track, the performance levels keep changing – on paper, we knew it would be challenging today. It will be an interesting race but we are optimistic of scoring good points tomorrow. Usually, we are better in the race so let’s see what we can do.”
Lance Stroll, 17th, 1:31.181
“It was a good effort in a tough qualifying session today – but we just didn't have the pace in the car that we ultimately needed. It’s not been handling as well as we’d like around here, and I lost a couple of tenths coming out of the last corner. That makes all the difference when the field is as tight as it is. We can still recover a few positions tomorrow and have a good race.”
Mike Krack, Team Principal
“A tough session today. Both drivers did a good job – but we have to be honest with ourselves: we did not have enough performance to qualify higher. Lance’s Q1 run plan was disrupted by the mid-session red flag, and he was unlucky to miss the cut after posting a lap just shy of Fernando’s. However, Fernando maintains his consecutive streak of Q3 appearances this year: he will start 10th for tomorrow’s Grand Prix. Tyre degradation is likely to play a key role in this race. We have kept one eye on our tyre allocation throughout practice – and we feel we are in good shape for tomorrow. The Japanese Grand Prix is always a tough race, but we will give it everything we’ve got and aim to score points tomorrow.
Alpine never looked particularly quick here, so it was no real surprise to see their drivers both exit in Q2. Ocon had looked slightly more comfortable than his team mate, but Gasly was able to extract more on his final run to leap ahead. Starting 12th and 14th though at a track where overtaking is tricky, they might have to do something interesting with strategy in order to climb back towards the points.
Esteban Ocon, 14th, 1:30.586
“Unfortunately, we were not quite good enough to make it into Q3 today with some very tight margins between many cars. If anything, we did not quite make the step in performance that we had hoped for between yesterday and today, which made things tricky for us in Qualifying. That said, we are very much focused on tomorrow’s race when it counts for points and when tyre allocation and strategy will come into play, which, we aim to play into our advantage. We will work hard overnight to see our options on strategy and look to make our way through the field into the points.”
Pierre Gasly, 12th, 1:30.509
“That was probably our maximum result today in twelfth, even if it was so close amongst so many drivers out there today. I think we did a good job to recover from a challenging Friday and find some improvements on car set-up. It’s such tight margins, though, and we’re less than 0.050secs from Q3, which was a similar story last weekend in Singapore. We’ve been twelfth at the last couple of races and managed to come away with some good results, so it’s certainly all to play for tomorrow. We need to keep working hard as a team and find some extra performance to get ourselves back into the top ten at future events. Tomorrow could be an interesting race with strategy and tyre degradation. We will see what we can do and the aim is come away with another strong result.”
Julian Rouse, Interim Sporting Director
“It was a very tight and competitive qualifying and we were unable to progress through to Q3, with Esteban and Pierre both out in Q2. For tomorrow, we will be starting from the middle of the grid and the target for us is to give both drivers the best chance to climb their way up through the pack and into the points. It’s been an interesting weekend so far on tyre choice and strategy and tomorrow will be no different with various strategic options on the table. We will be putting a lot of emphasis on analysing our choices and hopefully we can use our available tyre allocation to our advantage. It will be a long race for everyone and the goal is to come away with both cars in the points.”
Sargeant had the biggest moment of the weekend so far when he had a small snap into the final corner, ran out of time to correct it and ploughed over the grass and into the wall to bring out the red flags. That meant he didn’t set a time in Q1, but fortunately he was able to walk away unhurt. Albon did make Q2 but could go no further, somewhat curiously opting to run in the middle of that segment before the track had fully ramped up.
Logan Sargeant, 20th, No time set
"It’s been a good day until the incident. It was going well, and we had the car in a good window. I’ve just been struggling with rear overheating in the last sector. I lost the rear on exit; maybe a bit too aggressive on power with the tailwind as well. The grass creeps up on you quickly as it’s coming back towards you. Unfortunately, once I touched the grass there was nothing I could do. It’s disappointing and not what I wanted. I know the team have a big job on their hands to repair my car for tomorrow and I really appreciate all their hard work and effort. I’ll put this behind me and focus on the race tomorrow."
Alex Albon, 13th, 1:30.537
"If this track was ten degrees cooler, I think we would have been in Q3. But it’s been a tough weekend and we’ve been on the backfoot, so to come out P13 I think is the most we could get out of qualifying. Coming into this weekend, we expected to be a bit further up but, considering how Friday went and how fine the margins are out there, it’s a good achievement and I was happy with my Quali lap. There’s massive deg, the tarmac is very rough and we have the heat, so it’s going to be a long tricky race tomorrow. The key will be tyre management and control from everyone. It’s very tight out there."
Dave Robson, Head of Vehicle Performance
"A mixed day for us. We tried some different directions in FP3, and this didn’t work out as we had hoped. Changes were made for qualifying and as a result we were in a much better position. Unfortunately, Logan lost his car at the exit of the final corner, clipping the grass and ending in the wall. At this circuit, a minor mistake in that corner has big consequences and we now must rebuild a whole car for Logan. The team will approach this with their usual skill and enthusiasm, and he should be ready to race tomorrow.
"Alex had a good qualifying session and quickly got accustomed to the changes made to his car after FP3. At the end of Q1 he produced another very strong lap in pressured circumstances. This was reminiscent of his Q1 performance in Silverstone and is testament to his mental strength and driving abilities. He put in a very strong lap on a quiet track in Q2; his pace in the first two sectors was extremely good but he lost a little bit in the final chicane. To finish within 30ms of 11th place is a little frustrating, but those are the fine margins that we are dealing with. We have a good selection of new tyres available for the race tomorrow and will be looking to make progress into the top 10 during the Grand Prix."
Haas managed to get one car into Q2 which is a decent effort at a track that they had said all along won’t suit their car. Magnussen couldn’t manage any more than 15th in Q2 though, while Hulkenberg was left a little puzzled by his lack of pace considering he got an almighty tow on his final flying run in Q1.
Nico Hulkenberg, 18th, 1:31.299
“It was a strange one. The first lap obviously got deleted for track limits. The second lap felt very good in sector one, but then in sector two I tried to find time, but instead I lost some. It’s a weird sensation, there were no mistakes, so I need to look into what happened and why we couldn’t find more time. Degradation is high for everyone, but it’s also high for us. It’s going to be a battle tomorrow, so we need to see what we can do strategy-wise to help ourselves.”
Kevin Magnussen, 15th, 1:30.665
“I’m happy that we got the best out of it. P15, we want to be better than that, but we knew coming into this weekend it was going to be one of the worst tracks for us, and we know our car is stronger in qualifying than it is in the race. Being P15, you know what’s coming tomorrow, most likely. I feel I’ve made some improvements in terms of how I drive this car and I feel like I’m getting more out of it, so at least that work has paid off.”
Guenther Steiner, Team Principal
“It was as expected. We knew this was a track that doesn’t suit us, and I think we did the best we could. In the end, we need to be realistic at the moment about what’s possible and what is not. Hopefully tomorrow we can get the tyres to work a little bit longer, which is always our weak point, and then there is still opportunity there. So as always, we keep on pushing.”
Zhou had a scruffy Q1, as he lost a lap time for track limit infringements. He also picked up traffic which may have distracted him, and it certainly broke his concentration if his frustrated radio message was anything to go by. As for Bottas, he felt his lap was good – it just wasn’t quick enough. Both drivers were also called to the stewards to explain why they breached the maximum lap time on their cooldown laps, but no further action was taken.
Valtteri Bottas, 16th, 1:31.049
“We didn’t get to maximise the potential of our car this afternoon, and it is undoubtedly disappointing, as we had been looking good both in terms of feeling and of pace throughout every session leading up to qualifying. Unfortunately, the red flag affected my first push lap; the final one was actually quite clean, besides some traffic in the first sector, but we lost some pace compared to our direct competitors today, and we eventually dropped out of Q1 by a handful of hundredths. We’ll look into that overnight, and try to figure out what exactly happened, to be in better form again tomorrow. Our long-run pace actually looked promising, so I reckon we still have a chance to recover positions and make improvements on track.”
Zhou Guanyu, 19th, 1:31.398
“Our car was feeling good, even though we definitely lost something in our pace today. Unfortunately, I was already on the edge for Q2 when I was caught up in traffic and had a moment in Turn 9, ultimately spoiling my chances to make it through. Overall, it has been a very messy Q1 from my side, but I do feel that where we ended up today doesn’t really reflect the performances we have showed this weekend so far – nor where we were supposed to be. I reckon we potentially could have even made it up to Q3, still taking into consideration the track evolution throughout the sessions. Today hasn’t been our day, and even if starting from the back of the grid will be trickier, we will keep pushing and give our best tomorrow to put up some nice battles and charge through the field.”
Alessandro Alunni Bravi, Team Representative
“We faced another difficult qualifying session today, with both cars not making it past Q1. There were higher expectations within the team at the end of FP3, having seen our cars making progress from Friday, but unfortunately, we weren’t able to make that further step forward we needed ahead of qualifying, unlike our competitors. Both Valtteri and Zhou had their final push laps affected by traffic on track; still, we don’t want to find excuses, but instead analyse our work to figure out a way to make a higher step from FP3 to qualifying. Another challenging race expects our team tomorrow, and we all will need to do our best to score points. Our pace looked decent, but we have seen once again how the competition is so tight that any factor, even the smallest, can make the difference between Q1, Q2, and even Q3. We must stick together as a team now, turning today’s page and working on making an improvement tomorrow and in the next qualifying sessions.”
Mario Isola, Motorsport Director
“Congratulations to Max Verstappen, who with today’s performance secures the record for the most pole positions of the season for the second time in his career: we will have a special award for him in Abu Dhabi! On the technical front, today all the teams prepared meticulously for qualifying, looking for the best way to manage the softs which, at one of the most probing tracks from a tyre perspective, were delivering their peak performance on the first timed lap.
“Now looking ahead to tomorrow’s race, we feel that a two-stop will clearly be the most popular option, especially as temperatures should be the same as today. In fact, it will be interesting to see what combinations of compounds will be chosen by the strategists, given that all three of them have shown themselves capable of playing a part.
“The hard is probably the favourite compound, with eight drivers having saved the two sets of C1 supplied, while the other 12 have one new set. Furthermore, the soft, which obviously has shown the greatest signs of thermal degradation, could be useful for the first stint for those looking to make up places at the start, or also towards the end of the race, when with less fuel on board, a driver could try and exploit the performance difference compared to those who might possibly be running a slower and more used compound.”