Max Verstappen wants to erase the rumors of Singapore and with Red Bull he slaps everyone in the first free practice session of the Japanese GP in Suzuka. The Dutchman, with a 1’31″647 achieved on soft tyres, beat Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari by more than six tenths and Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari equipped with the new surface by nine tenths.
The world champion had also impressed with the Test compound (the softest C2 tested by Pirelli in view of 2024) as he had gained almost a second and a half from his teammate, Sergio Perez. Red Bull has fitted a new power unit on both RB19s and the feeling is that the Japanese Honda have used slightly more advanced mappings than the usual ones in FP1 to extinguish the rumors after last weekend’s flop when there was the doubt that the combined provisions of the FIA provisions with the revision of the TD39 and the introduction of the TD018 had clipped the wings of the car that is dominating the 2023 season.
If Verstappen amazed on the fast Japanese corners, the same cannot be said of Sergio Perez who did not enter the top 10 with a gap of 1″3 from the world championship leader: the Mexican dedicated himself to something else and had a different background than Max.
Behind Verstappen is Ferrari with Carlos Sainz who confirms himself ahead of Charles Leclerc, fourth, author of a long shot in the sand of the hairpin at the end of the session. The Monegasque with the SF-23 equipped with the new floor (the Venturi channels and the pavement in front of the rear wheel have been modified) seemed more nervous than the Spaniard’s standard one. The new solution (available in two copies) will be entrusted to Sainz in FP2 and only afterwards will it be decided whether to use it or not. The separation of the reds from the Red Bull does not alarm the Maranello team: the RB19, in addition to a more open engine, probably also had a lower fuel load. The Scuderia recorded a good long run (better than Verstappen’s) and in the morning there was the feeling that a tactical match was underway and we will clarify our ideas in the second round.
Lando Norris slipped in between the two reds with McLaren: the Englishman left a tenth to Sainz, while Oscar Piastri, making his debut with the MCL60, placed himself in seventh position, leaving three tenths to his teammate.
Yuki Tsunoda surprises in fifth with AlphaTauri: the Japanese is waiting for the renewal for 2024 to be made official and on the Honda track, like Verstappen, he wanted to give a boost that, in some way, downsizes the Red Bull show.
Fernando Alonso is sixth with the Aston Martin equipped with sensors to measure the flexion of the rear wing: the Spaniard took a second with the “verdona”, leaving the returning Lance Stroll in tenth place at almost four tenths. The Canadian was able to evaluate the completely rebuilt AMR21 after the terrible crash in Singapore and did not even suffer from the muscle pain that had advised him to skip the Marina Bay GP.
F1 returns to a fast track and Alexander Albon reappears in the Top 10 with Williams: the Anglo-Thai is eighth with the FW45 equipped with an advanced floor. He didn’t impress Logan Sargeant, only 19th and struggling with several driving inaccuracies on a particularly selective track.
Liam Lawson also stands out in ninth with the second AlphaTauri, while Alpine suffers only 12th with Pierre Gasly and 15th with Esteban Ocon. And Mercedes? The two W14s ended up in the second part of the group because they were the only ones not to have mounted the soft mascola. George Russell is 13th, while Lewis Hamilton is 16th: the Brackley team had a decidedly different approach to Suzuka from the others.
Nico Hulkenberg is 14th for Haas, four places better than Kevin Magnussen. Alfa Romeo doesn’t impress with Valtteri Bottas 17th and Guanyu Zhou last.