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FP1: Verstappen comfortably heads Sainz and Norris in opening practice session in Japan

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SUZUKA, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 22: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing prepares

Max Verstappen and Red Bull returned to their pace-setting form in the opening hour of running in Japan, as the Dutch racer set the early pace in the first practice session to comfortably lead rivals Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris.

Just five days on from an action-packed evening in Singapore the drivers made their way to Japan for the second race of the double header. But as opposed to Singapore, where it was hot and humid, they were greeted by slightly cooler conditions in Suzuka.

LIVE COVERAGE: Follow all the action from first practice for the Japanese Grand Prix

As the lights turned green to kick off the weekend’s action, it was Verstappen who led the drivers out, as Red Bull looked to hit the ground running in a bid to return to winning ways after their difficult outing in Singapore.

Along with that, this session would also see the teams testing the new version of the C2 tyre ahead of next season. This meant all drivers would be handed two additional sets of tyres compared to the usual 13, with all teams running the prototype tyre in the session.

Japan 2023

Practice 1 results

PositionTeam NameTime
1VER1:31.647
2SAI+0.626s
3NOR+0.745s
4LEC+0.927s
5TSU+0.95s
View Full Results

And following the first 20 minutes of running it was Verstappen who led the way, as his time of a 1m 32.442s on the prototype tyre was 0.724s faster than second-placed Fernando Alonso.

We then saw a flurry of laps come in on the soft tyre with Verstappen once again setting the time to beat. His lap of a 1m 31.647s saw him top the timesheets in first practice, with his nearest challenger, Sainz, 0.626s off the pace.

PADDOCK INSIDER: Will Red Bull bounce back to their best in Japan or can a rival team cause another upset?

Norris left it late to go third fastest for McLaren ahead of Leclerc, who made it two Ferraris in the top four, although he was three-tenths of his team mate, Sainz. Meanwhile home favourite Yuki Tsunoda impressed to go fifth for AlphaTauri.

Alonso wound up sixth for Aston Martin, ahead of Oscar Piastri – fresh from signing his new contract extension with McLaren – the Williams of Alex Albon, and the AlphaTauri of Liam Lawson.

SUZUKA, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 22: Carlos Sainz of Spain driving (55) the Ferrari SF-23 on track during

The drivers tested the new version of the C2 tyre in FP1 in Japan ahead of next season

Lance Stroll was back out of track after missing the Singapore GP due to precautionary measures after his crash in qualifying, and he was 10th for Aston Martin, ahead of the second Red Bull of Sergio Perez, who was down in 11th.

Pierre Gasly was the lead Alpine driver in 12th, ahead of the Mercedes of George Russell – although he and his Mercedes team mate Lewis Hamilton did not run the soft tyre – with the Haas of Nico Hulkenberg in 13th.

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Esteban Ocon was down in 15th in the other Alpine car ahead of Hamilton, the Alfa Romeo of Valtteri Bottas, and the Haas of Kevin Magnussen. Logan Sargeant was 19th for Williams, while Zhou Guanyu brought up the rear of the field for Alfa Romeo.

The drivers will now look over the data, debrief with their teams, before readying themselves for the second practice session in Japan later today at 1500 local time.

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