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Red Bull leads the way in final practice


Ahead of today's sole practice session the air temperature is 17 degrees, while the track temperature is 25 degrees. It remains cold and overcast with rain a serious possibility.

Due to the lack of running in FP2, not forgetting the red flag in the earlier session we are expecting it to be very busy over the next hour as the teams acquire all the vital data that they're currently lacking, which, due to the very nature of the Suzuka track will only add to the pressure.

While the Mercedes appears to be more competitive thus far, Andrea Stella insists that McLaren has yet to show its hand, while Ferrari believes it is closer to Red Bull.

The lights go green and Verstappen leads the way, followed by Bottas, Perez, Zhou and the Haas pair. Most are on mediums though the Stakes are on softs.

As more drivers head out all three compounds are in use, Albon on hards and Hamilton on softs.

An early spin at the Hairpin for Magnussen sees the yellows briefly waved. The Dane having left his braking just a little too late.

Verstappen posts the early benchmark, crossing the line at 30.265. Perez is just 0.188s off the pace.

Leclerc goes third and Sainz fifth as Stroll heads out on hards.

With Aston Martin's upgrades only available to the Canadian yesterday, Alonso is set to have them as well today.

On the softs, Hamilton goes quickest with a 30.065, just 0.200 up on Verstappen, as the Dutchman complains that his mirrors are vibrating.

Surprisingly, a number of drivers have yet to appear, among them the McLaren and Alpine duos.

Sainz improves to fourth with a 30.984 - on the mediums - but is demoted when his teammate posts a 30.559.

"What the **** again with the drivability," complains Perez. "Please check."

"Rears got hot on that last lap," warns Hamilton.

Bottas splits the Ferraris with a 30.791.

"I'm struggling a lot in the low speed," warns Perez, "the ride in the low speed is quite poor."

Zhou goes seventh on the softs, ahead of the similarly shod RBs of Tsunoda and Ricciardo.

Alonso goes sixth on the hards, 0.867s off Hamilton's soft pace.

"I have zero confidence in the car," complains Albon.

15 minutes in and Piastri heads out, leaving Norris and the Alpine as the only no shows.

Ricciardo is off in Turn 2 after losing the rear mid-way through the corner.

"I have no rear support," says Albon, "zero!"

Piastri goes third on the softs (30.360), as Norris and the Alpines head out, all sporting softs.

Norris goes third with a 30.199 as Gasly goes 14th and Ocon 17th.

Seemingly, Alpine has fitted Gasly's car with a full set of engine components, while Bottas, Sargeant, Leclerc and Hulkenberg have new gearboxes.

"Look at the bouncing," says Ocon, "I think it's increased a little bit."

"I've got quite a lot of understeer," warns Verstappen.

With the focus on long runs, the Aston Martin pair are the only drivers on the hards, while the rest of the field is split pretty evenly between the softs and mediums.

Mercedes, which has its drivers on different strategies, is currently first (Hamilton) and last (Russell).

"Pushing levels at Turn 13 is a bit high," Hamilton is advised, while in the Mercedes garage Russell's car is up on its stand.

With 18 minutes remaining there are just three cars on track - Alonso, Stroll and Sainz - as attention is about to shift to the qualifying sims.

The Williams pair head out on fresh softs as the qualifying sims get underway. Russell follows, the Mercedes driver also on the red-banded rubber.

Albon goes sixth with a 30.533, 0.468s off Hamilton's best. Sargeant goes 15th with a 31.452.

Quickest in S2, Russell crosses the line at 29.918 to go top, however Verstappen is on track... on softs.

Norris goes quickest in S1, as Verstappen crosses the line at 29.563.

Hamilton improves (30.037) but remains third, only to be demoted when Perez goes second with a 29.832.

Norris aborts his lap, as Verstappen complains that the ride is "currently a lot worse".

As Alonso goes fifth (30.082), replay shows Norris running wide in the Degner Curves.

Tsunoda improves to eighth while his teammate goes twelfth.

Ocon goes 14th and Hulkenberg 16th.

Norris improves (30.137) but remains sixth, as Sainz goes seventh and Leclerc can only manage tenth.

"I keep losing my left mirror," complains Perez.

Stroll runs wide in the second Degner, as the chequered flag signals the end of the session.

"I don't get it, what are we doing to stay in the garage... two laps, two laps, come on," complains Leclerc.

Verstappen is quickest, ahead of Perez, Russell, Hamilton, Alonso, Norris, Sainz, Piastri, Tsunoda and Leclerc.

Albon is eleventh, ahead of Bottas, Ricciardo, Ocon, Zhou, Hulkenberg, Gasly, Stroll, Sargeant and Magnussen.

Clearly Red Bull has the edge, and while Mercedes appears to have improves, what do McLaren and Ferrari have up their sleeves... and then there's that man Alonso.

Check out our Saturday gallery from Suzuka here.


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