Japanese Grand Prix: Max Verstappen in indomitable form in FP1 at Suzuka

Michelle Foster
Max Verstappen smiling as he pulls off his fireproofs.

Max Verstappen smiles under his balaclava.

After Red Bull’s Singapore troubles, Max Verstappen looked unbeatable in Friday’s opening practice for the Japanese Grand Prix as the reigning World Champion sat P1 from start to finish.

The 25-year-old, determined to bounce back after Red Bull suffered their first loss of the season last time out, clocked a 1:31.647 to beat Carlos Sainz by 0.626 seconds. Lando Norris was third fastest.

Cloudy, sticky, with the track temperature at 37’C and humidity an unpleasant 75%, such was Verstappen’s determination to regain his top-driver status – and shrug of his Singapore’s woes – he was waiting at the end of the pit lane for several minutes for FP1 to begin.

Max Verstappen leads from start to finish

First out on track with his RB19’s rear end covered in flo-viz paint, he fired in a 1:33.7 as his opening gambit. Carlos Sainz also had a car full of flo-viz but not his own, the Ferrari driver getting sprayed by Lando Norris’ McLaren.

With a mix of Pirelli’s hard, medium, and test tyres in play, Verstappen dropped the P1 time to a 1:33.3 with Oscar Piastri and Norris next in line ahead of Fernando Alonso, running the test tyres, Sergio Perez and Lewis Hamilton.

Further back Lance Stroll, back in the car his bruising Singapore qualifying crash, was into the pits without a time on the board for Aston Martin to work on the rear of his car.

Swapping from the hard tyres to the test rubber, Verstappen continued his pace-setting run as he shaved almost seven-tenths off his previous best and then another tenth. He, though, wasn’t happy with George Russell, who he felt was in his way. “That Mercedes was so dangerously in the way there,” he said.

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Verstappen was P1 at the halfway point ahead of Alonso, Perez, Piastri, Russell, Norris, Charles Leclerc, Carlos Sainz and Hamilton. Valtteri Bottas sat P10. Local favourite Yuki Tsunoda annoyed Hamilton as he cut across the track in front of him.

As the drivers started their soft tyre runs, Nico Hulkenberg shot up to fourth place on the timesheet but found himself 1.8s off the P1 time when Verstappen made the swap. The Red Bull driver clocked a 1:31.647, putting him 1.4s ahead of Perez in the same car on the same tyres.

Sainz in the Ferrari jumped up to second place but was still six-tenths down on Verstappen with Leclerc up to third as the Ferrari teammates split the Red Bulls. Alonso went on to split the Ferraris in third before Leclerc regained P3.

The session ended with Verstappen P1 ahead of Sainz and Norris with Leclerc, Tsunoda and Alonso completing the top ten ahead of Piastri, Alex Albon, Liam Lawson and Stroll.

Russell and Hamilton were 13th and 16th, neither Mercedes driver putting in a soft tyre run.


1 Max VERSTAPPEN Red Bull Racing 1:31.647
2 Carlos SAINZ Ferrari +0.626
3 Lando NORRIS McLaren +0.745
4 Charles LECLERC Ferrari +0.927
5 Yuki TSUNODA AlphaTauri +0.950
6 Fernando ALONSO Aston Martin +1.003
7 Oscar PIASTRI McLaren +1.066
8 Alexander ALBON Williams +1.344
9 Liam LAWSON AlphaTauri +1.358
10 Lance STROLL Aston Martin +1.393
11 Sergio PEREZ Red Bull Racing +1.396
12 Pierre GASLY Alpine +1.482
13 George RUSSELL Mercedes +1.663
14 Nico HULKENBERG Haas F1 Team +1.801
15 Esteban OCON Alpine +1.869
16 Lewis HAMILTON Mercedes +2.052
17 Valtteri BOTTAS Alfa Romeo +2.213
18 Kevin MAGNUSSEN Haas F1 Team +2.328
19 Logan SARGEANT Williams +2.565
20 Guanyu ZHOU Alfa Romeo +3.184

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