Max Verstappen and Red Bull put the memories of a challenging Singapore weekend behind them as they doubled up during Friday practice for the Japanese Grand Prix, following up their pace-setting FP1 efforts with the fastest time in FP2, which was red-flagged late on when Alpine’s Pierre Gasly crashed out.
In another session that featured prototype C2 tyre testing for the 2024 season, Verstappen was one of the first drivers to switch to the standard soft compound rubber, producing an initial benchmark of 1m 31.377s to continue where he left off earlier in the day.
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Following runs from Lando Norris and Charles Leclerc at the halfway mark, which saw both briefly top the times, Verstappen rejoined the Suzuka track on softs to pump in a 1m 30.688s lap and move comfortably clear of the McLaren and Ferrari drivers.
Leclerc wound up three-tenths adrift and Norris four-tenths back, with Carlos Sainz – the winner at Marina Bay and pole-sitter for the last two races – making it two Ferraris in the top four positions, half a second down on Verstappen’s time.
|1 Max Verstappen VER Red Bull Racing||1:30.688|
|2 Charles Leclerc LEC Ferrari||+0.320s|
|3 Lando Norris NOR McLaren||+0.464s|
|4 Carlos Sainz SAI Ferrari||+0.549s|
|5 George Russell RUS Mercedes||+0.640s|
After both Mercedes drivers refrained from using the soft rubber in first practice, George Russell posted a lap time quick enough for fifth position this time out, though team mate Lewis Hamilton had another quiet session on his way to 14th, having asked the team to check his floor early on.
Fernando Alonso and Alex Albon led the way for their respective Aston Martin and Williams teams in sixth and seventh, followed by the other McLaren of the freshly re-signed Oscar Piastri and the second Red Bull of Sergio Perez, with Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas 10th.
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Lance Stroll continued to get back up to speed after his heavy qualifying crash in Singapore, which ruled him out of that race, placing 11th from Alpine driver Esteban Ocon, the Haas of Nico Hulkenberg and the aforementioned Hamilton.
A closely matched gaggle of cars followed, led by F1 newcomer Liam Lawson in 15th, with the New Zealander doing all he can to get himself in the mix for a full-time seat next season as AlphaTauri mull over their three-way driver dilemma.
Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu survived a wild moment at the exit of Degner 2 en route to 16th on the timing screens, followed by Haas man Kevin Magnussen, who was left frustrated by both Sainz and Lawson for getting in his way through the ‘S’ Curves.
Yuki Tsunoda was 18th in front of his home fans, just 0.037s slower than new team mate Lawson but three places back, as Gasly and Williams rookie Logan Sargeant – fighting for his F1 future – brought up the rear.
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Gasly brought out the red flags in the final moments of the session when he locked up at the second Degner, slid through the gravel and thumped the barriers on the outside of the corner – the Frenchman duly apologising over the radio for the damage sustained.
Drivers and teams will now study their data into the Suzuka sunset to come back in the best possible shape on Saturday, with final practice set to begin at 1130 local time and the all-important qualifying hour at 1500.