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Verstappen back on top in Japan


Ahead of today's opening session the air temperature is 28 degrees C, while the track temperature is 37 degrees. It is warm, overcast and windy, with a 10 chance of rain.

In terms of updates, it's slim pickings, a mostly track specific, as Ferrari has a new Floor Body, Mercedes a new Rear Wing, McLaren a new Beam Wing and Sidepod Inlet and Aston Martin a new Front Corner.

AlphaTauri has a new Rear Wing and Rear View Mirror and Williams new Floor Fences.

While there might not be many upgrades this weekend, at McLaren Piastri has the updates that were only available to his teammate in Singapore.

Of course, all eyes will be on Red Bull this weekend following the Austrian team's Singapore slump. On paper Suzuka should suit the RB19 perfectly, however anything less than perfect is going to lead to further claims that the recent technical directive from the FIA has impacted the team.

The lights go green and Verstappen leads the way, the rear of his car sporting a generous coating of flo-vis. He is followed by Albon, Stroll, Russell, Perez and Zhou.

For the first two free practice sessions, each driver has two additional sets of tyres, compared to the usual 13 sets per weekend. This is part of a development programme that was recently defined for 2024 and will continue with a new C4 compound to be tested on track during the Mexican Grand Prix weekend.

A number of drivers are sporting the prototype tyre, while the hards and mediums are also in use.

Russell complains of a vibration on his steering wheel as Verstappen (hards) posts the first time of the weekend, a 33.719. Hulkenberg goes second, ahead of Perez, Bottas, Russell and Zhou.

Alonso (Pro) goes second with a 35.078 as Perez complains that he got sprayed with flo-vis from Piastri's McLaren.

Piastri goers third, ahead of Leclerc while Hamilton pits.

Verstappen improves to 33.354 while Perez goes second (34.560). The Dutchman subsequently switches to the prototype tyres.

Piastri goes second and Norris third, as Sainz goes sixth and Hamilton seventh, the majority now on the prototype rubber.

"I feel like I need more than one cool down lap with my rears," reports Zhou.

Verstappen ups the ante with a 32.597, as Perez retakes second with a 33.888, albeit 1.291s off the pace.

"That Mercedes was dangerously in the way there," complains the world champion.

A 33.166 sees (medium-shod) Alonso go second.

Twenty minutes in and Tsunoda becomes one of the last drivers to post a time, the Japanese (mediums) crossing the line at 36.035 to go 18th.

"I have a lot of understeer," he complains as Sargeant runs wide in Turn 9.

The Mercedes pair switch from the proto tyres to mediums, Russell improving to third (33.806) and Hamilton third (33.699).

On his first lap Stroll (mediums) goes third (33.710) as Hulkenberg switches to softs, as does Perez.

Lawson is advised that his GPS is not working.

On the red-banded rubber Hulkenberg improves from 14th to 3rd with a 33.448, as Verstappen also makes the switch.

Lawson claims that "kerb riding is tricky".

Perez posts a 33.043 on the softs as Verstappen ups the ante with a 31.647 having lost time in the final sector.

On the softs, the Ferrari pair split the Bulls, Sainz posting 32.273 and Leclerc 32.693.

A big, big catch from Piastri after he clips the kerb at Turn 1. Impressive stuff from the Australian.

As Alonso goes third on the softs (32.650), Lawson reports light rain on his visor.

Albon goes fifth with a 32.991, ahead of Perez, Hulkenberg and Russell.

A 33.040 sees Stroll go sixth, the Canadian showing no after-effects following his Singapore crash.

Piastri confirms "very light drops" of rain as Lawson goes sixth with a 33.005, only to be demoted by Norris (32.880).

As attention switched to Sunday, the drivers make the switch to hards.

"It's definitely not right," insists Tsunoda who is told to box and stop right in front of his garage. Whatever it was didn't prevent him from going fourth with a 32.597 moments earlier however.

As the rain drops become visible, Perez goes off and across the Astroturf at the chicane. The Mexican cites "deg at the rear".

Mercedes still on mediums, while Norris is on softs, as the various strategies play out.

Norris improves to third (32.392) and Piastri seventh (32.713).

"It's so unnecessary this guy," says Tsunoda of Sargeant. "I don't know why he wants to sit under my rear wing for his whole run, it's stupid," responds the American.

The session ends. Verstappen is quickest, ahead of Sainz, Norris, Leclerc, Tsunoda, Alonso, Piastri, Albon, Lawson and Stroll.

Perez is eleventh, ahead of Gasly, Russell, Hulkenberg, Ocon, Hamilton, Bottas, Magnussen, Sargeant and Zhou.

Check out our Friday gallery from Suzuka here.


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1. Posted by Spindoctor, 22/09/2023 9:23

"Amazing shocking

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