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Verstappen quickest in final practice at Suzuka


Ahead of today's sole practice session the air temperature is 28 degrees C, while the track temperature is 42 degrees. Unlike yesterday, which was overcast, today it is bright and sunny.

Following his Singapore stumble Max Verstappen was the pace-setter in both of yesterday's sessions, however, Ferrari and McLaren were thereabouts.

Mercedes, particularly Hamilton, appeared to struggle, while Albon gave another strong performance.

Almost all the teams reported high tyre deg, and even Pirelli is unable to say whether Sunday will be a one or two-stopper.

Adding to the fact is that Pirelli was running a prototype tyre in both sessions yesterday, while a number of teams had their drivers on alternate programmes.

The lights go green but there is no immediate rush to work.

Hamilton's new helmet is getting lots of attention, but older readers will already be familiar with it. To give you a hint: "Klaatu barada nikto."

Eventually Sainz heads down the pitlane to get things underway. He is subsequently joined by his Ferrari teammate, both on softs.

As the Maranello pair begin their first flying laps of the day, they are joined by Stroll (hard) and the McLaren pair, who are both on softs.

Sainz crosses the line at 32.001, while Leclerc responds with a 31.963.

Stroll posts a 33.683, while Piastri stops the clock at 31.891 and Norris 31.174 to go top.

At this point more drivers head out, most opting for the red-banded rubber, though the AlphaTauri pair are on mediums.

Ocon goes fifth (32.306) ahead of his Alpine teammate who posts a 33.074. Both are demoted by Magnussen's 32.087.

"Front brakes are on fire, mate," reports Lawson. "No concern early on, could be just a bit of smoke from new parts, it should settle," he is told.

After 17 minutes, Verstappen finally heads out, leaving Sargeant, Alonso and Albon as the only 'no shows'.

Gort, sorry Hamilton, goes second with a 31.770 and Russell third (31.780), while Perez can only manage a 31.782 to go fourth.

Verstappen goes quickest in S1, he maintains the pace in S2, finally crossing the line at 30.960, 0.214s up on Norris.

"The clutch is a bit weird," reports Leclerc as Alonso finally heads out.

Leclerc improves to third with a 31.696 but remains 0.736s off the pace.

Alonso goes eleventh with a 32.205.

It was noticed yesterday that drivers were failing to improve on their second flying lap, while deg continues to pint to a two-stopper on Sunday.

Finally the Williams pair head out, Albon immediately going tenth (32.113) and Sargeant fourteenth (32.467).

"The brakes feel so strange," reports Albon, "it feels like I flat-spotted straightaway."

Verstappen is told that after 3 laps there is a possibility that he is on high fuel. This might explain why times are not improving.

That said, Perez posts a PB in S1 and his teammate a purple in S1.

S1 is where Mercedes was struggling yesterday.

Finally, drivers begin to bold on a second set of fresh softs as attention shifts to qualifying.

That said, the AlphaTauri pair have yet to use any softs today.

Despite a strong opening sector, Albon fails to improve and remains tenth.

However, Piastri - who now has the updates only available to Norris in Singapore - goes quickest in the first two sectors, finally crossing the line at 30.555 to go top.

Sargeant improves to tenth (32.002), while Zhou goes fourth (31.668) and Norris quickest, 0.048s up on his McLaren teammate.

Gasly can only manage 15th (32.199), while Bottas posts a 31.699 to go sixth.

PBs in all three sectors see Alonso go fourth with a 31.549.

Of the big guns, the Mercedes pair are first to head out on fresh softs for their qualifying sims.

Ocon improves to 12th with a 31.924.

Hamilton is the quicker of the Mercedes pair in S1, but loses ground in S2. At the line Russell posts a 31.505 to go fifth and Hamilton a 31.159 to go fourth.

A PB in S1 is followed by a purple in S2 as Verstappen up the ante with a 30.267. The Dutchman realises that he is best served by not pushing in the opening sector and saving his tyres for the end of the lap.

The AlphaTauris are really struggling, Lawson remains 19th and is teammate - and local hero - 20th.

"Double cool down, one push, single cool down then one more push," Tsunoda is told.

Leclerc improves to fourth (31.022) and Sainz to fifth (31.137). However, both are demoted when Perez crosses the line at 31.004.

"Come on, man!" yells Tsunoda as he loses time behind a struggling Magnussen.

Nonetheless, the Japanese driver subsequently improves to 14th with a 31.951, while Lawson posts a 32.048 to go seventeenth.

The session ends. Verstappen is quickest, ahead of Norris, Piastri, Perez, Leclerc, Sainz, Hamilton, Russell, Alonso and Zhou.

Bottas is eleventh, ahead of Magnussen, Ocon, Tsunoda, Hulkenberg, Sargeant, Lawson, Albon, Stroll and Gasly.

Check out our Saturday gallery from Suzuka here.


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