The Japanese GP was story of Red Bull and Max Verstappen returning to form and dominating every session including the main race. their drivers will want to forget. The real news was found behind the leader in individual cars.
The plots developing behind Verstappen where fascinating and read something like an Agatha Christie novel.
Max Verstappen made a triumphant return to pole position at the Japanese qualifying session for tomorrows GP.
The driver was firing in all cylinders and proved to be untouchable throughout his Japanese qualifying performance. The two-time world champion ensured that there would be no repetition of his unexpected Q2 exit in Singapore and thundered to his ninth pole position of the season with a dazzling lap time of 1:28.877.
In the race lineup for Sunday, Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris will follow behind the Red Bull in second and third positions, but both McLaren cars were over half a second slower than Verstappen’s pole-setting pace.
Verstappen’s commanding lead of 0.581 seconds over Piastri represents the largest pole margin at Suzuka since Rubens Barrichello’s performance in 2003. Sky Sports F1 commentator Karun Chandhok described Verstappen’s lap as “one of the greatest in F1 qualifying history,” and Red Bull team principal Christian Horner echoed this sentiment, calling Verstappen’s laps “stunning” and “mind-blowing.”
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What Happened in Q1 and Q2?
During Q1 of the Japanese GP, there was an emotional moment as Logan Sargeant crashed his Williams at the final corner, eliciting a heartfelt response from the garage. Fortunately, Sargeant was able to walk away from the wrecked car.
In contrast to their recent pole positions, Ferrari found themselves settling for fourth with Charles Leclerc and sixth with Carlos Sainz. Sergio Perez managed to split the two Ferrari cars, but he was 0.773 seconds slower than his teammate Verstappen.
Lewis Hamilton managed to outqualify his Mercedes teammate George Russell, but the Silver Arrows will start the race from the seventh and eighth positions on the grid. Yuki Tsunoda delighted his home fans by securing ninth place for AlphaTauri, while Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso continued his impressive record of being the only driver to reach every Q3 session this season.
Logan Sargeant Crashed out in Q1
The first part of qualifying witnessed a heavy crash for Logan Sargeant at the final corner, leading to a red flag. Despite his crash, Sargeant’s fellow Williams driver, Alex Albon, maintained his perfect qualifying record over his teammate.
Logan Sargeant’s Q1 crash marked another difficult session for the American rookie, who spun out at the end of his first flying lap. Lance Stroll also failed to improve sufficiently in Q1 and suffered his second consecutive Q1 exit, this time in his Aston Martin, following his crash in Singapore.
Max Verstappen had dominated all three practice sessions, making him the clear favorite for pole position on Saturday.
He showcased his intentions in qualifying by immediately setting times in the 1:29s during Q1, despite a challenging moment at Degner Two corner. Even on used soft tires in Q2, Verstappen managed to dip below the 1:30 mark.
What Happened in Q3?
Verstappen was the first driver to venture out in Q3, initially setting a provisional pole time of 1:29.012, which would have sufficed as he was four tenths ahead of the competition. However, on his final effort, Verstappen found even more performance, securing the 29th pole position of his career and tying with the legendary Juan Manuel Fangio.
On Sunday, Red Bull could clinch their sixth Constructors’ Championship if they outscore Mercedes by a single point and do not get outscored by Ferrari by 24 points or more. Piastri and Norris will aim to challenge Verstappen from second and third on the grid, marking McLaren’s first top-six start at Suzuka since 2011.
Piastri secured his first front-row start in an F1 Grand Prix by narrowly beating his teammate Norris by 0.035 seconds in Q3. Despite their efforts, neither McLaren driver could improve upon their final qualifying runs after Verstappen had already lowered his provisional pole time.
Lewis Hamilton Started in Front of George Russel
In an interesting twist, Lewis Hamilton managed to outqualify George Russell for the first time since the Belgian Grand Prix in July. However, Mercedes never truly contended for the front three rows of the grid.
Saturday morning brought confirmation that Yuki Tsunoda would continue with AlphaTauri for the 2024 season, and he rewarded his home fans with a Q3 appearance. AlphaTauri, despite being at the bottom of the Constructors’ Championship, has shown improved competitiveness since introducing updates in Singapore. Tsunoda’s ninth-place start is his best position since the Monaco Grand Prix in May.
Japanese Qualifying Times
|1||Max Verstappen||RED BULL RACING HONDA RBPT||01:29.9||01:30.0||01:28.9||12|
|2||Oscar Piastri||MCLAREN MERCEDES||01:30.4||01:30.1||01:29.5||14|
|3||Lando Norris||MCLAREN MERCEDES||01:30.1||01:30.3||01:29.5||12|
|5||Sergio Perez||RED BULL RACING HONDA RBPT||01:30.7||01:30.0||01:29.7||18|
|9||Yuki Tsunoda||ALPHATAURI HONDA RBPT||01:30.7||01:30.2||01:30.3||18|
|10||Fernando Alonso||ASTON MARTIN ARAMCO MERCEDES||01:31.0||01:30.5||01:30.6||15|
|11||Liam Lawson||ALPHATAURI HONDA RBPT||01:30.4||01:30.5||16|
|12||Pierre Gasly||ALPINE RENAULT||01:30.8||01:30.5||12|
|13||Alexander Albon||WILLIAMS MERCEDES||01:30.9||01:30.5||12|
|14||Esteban Ocon||ALPINE RENAULT||01:31.0||01:30.6||12|
|15||Kevin Magnussen||HAAS FERRARI||01:31.0||01:30.7||9|
|16||Valtteri Bottas||ALFA ROMEO FERRARI||01:31.0||5|
|17||Lance Stroll||ASTON MARTIN ARAMCO MERCEDES||01:31.2||7|
|18||Nico Hulkenberg||HAAS FERRARI||01:31.3||6|
|19||Zhou Guanyu||ALFA ROMEO FERRARI||01:31.4||6|
|NC||Logan Sargeant||WILLIAMS MERCEDES||DNF||2|
Japanese GP Race
Max Verstappen held off an attack from Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri but easily manage to keep them at bay. He seemed to be swatting of pesky mosquitos such was his pace advantage.
Behind the leading three the Japanese GP was a chaotic start. Sergio Perez, Lewis Hamilton and Carlos Sainz touched into Turn 1. Lewis’s Mercedes and Sainz’s Ferrari were undamaged, but Perez pitted on the next lap for a new wing.
Further back, Esteban Ocon squeezed Bottas into Albon causing a chain reaction.
By Lap 3 the order had settled down to
Verstappen, Norris, Piastri, Leclerc, Sainz, Alonso, Hamilton, Russell, Lawson, Tsunoda, Stroll, Hulkenberg, Gasly, Magnussen, Ocon, Zhou, Albon, Perez, Sargeant and Bottas.
The safety car was deployed to allow the debris for Perez, Sainz’s and Hamiltons collision to be cleaned up.
Perez overtook Fernando Alonso just before entering the pit-lane and was hit with a five-second time penalty and two penalty points by stewards for a “Safety Car infringement.”. This incident would play out with Red Bull exploiting a bizarre loophole in the rules later in the race.
The race resumed on lap 5.
Laps 6 – 12
On lap 6 a contest started between Hamilton (ahead) and Russell (behind.) George managed to overtake Lewis into the final chicane, only for Lewis to retake the position into Turn 1.
Valtteri Bottas’s race fell apart on lap 7 when he tried to overtake Logan Sargeant, but he gets hit and ends up in the gravel trap.
By lap 7 Verstappen had seen off pesky contenders for his crown and he led the race by 2.5 seconds.
By lap 12 the top order was Verstappen, Norris, Piastri, Leclerc, Sainz, hamilton, Russell, Stroll and Gasly
Sergio Perez’s race went from bad to worse when he hit Kevin Magnussen causing the Haas to spin out. For his role in this Perez earned a five-second time penalty in addition to another two penalty points.
Lap 14 – 19
The Virtual Safety car came out again to clean the mess on track. Perez complained that his car didn’t feel right, and ended up retiring.
Verstappen and Hamilton pitted for new hard tires, which pushed Norris into the lead 2.3s ahead of Charles Leclerc. Norris (Hards) and Leclerc (Mediums) pitted on the next lap.
By lap 19 the top order was Russell, Verstappen, Piastri, Norris, Ocon, Leclerc, Alonso, Sainz, Hamilton and Tsunoda.
Verstappen retook the lead as Russel ran wide into the hairpin in the middle part of the lap.
Lap 20 – 40
Hamilton flew past Alonso into the 130R corner. By this time, although Russel was in 2nd place, he was becoming increasingly vulnerable. The inevitable happened with the flying rookie Oscar Piastri getting past Russel to assume 2nd place.
Russel pitted for a set of hard tires.
Piastri let Lando Norris through into 2nd place on lap 27. The order for the top 3 remained unchanged to the end of the race (although they did juggle around through pit stops) .
The order in lap 29 was Verstappen, Norris, Piastri, Leclerc, Sainz, Hamilton, Russell, Ocon, Gasly, Tsunoda, Alonso, Zhou, Hulkenberg, Magnussen, Lawson.
The following drivers were labelled DNF: Albon, Sargeant, Stroll, Perez and Bottas.
On lap 32 Leclerc and Hamilton pitted for new rubber (hards.)
On lap 38 Carlos Sainz pitted for new tires and returned to the track 7.2 seconds behind Lewis Hamilton.
Perez Rejoins the Race!
Bizarrely Red Bull sends Sergio Perez back out in track so that he can serve his penalties and not suffer any grid loss at the next race.
Although this is perfectly legal and within the regs covered by the rule book, there is no-one who would say it is in the spirit of the sport!
By lap 40 the order is Verstappen, Norris, Russell, Piastri, Leclerc, Hamilton, Sainz, Alonso, Ocon and Gasly.
Lap 41 to the End
Piastri overtakes Russel. for 3rd place. On lap 44 Leclerc passes Russel for 4th place.
Another mini race ensued between Russel, Hamilton and Sainz. Russel, on older tires was slower than the other 2 and there was a real chance that Sainz would be able to pass both Hamilton and Russel. Apparently, Toto Wolff stepped in an insisted that Russel gives 5th position to Hamilton.
Russel did this under duress (but later admitted it was the right call!)
Sainz subsequently passed Russel, but at least Mercedes had been able to split the Ferrari’s and prevent their 2nd place constructors’ position being placed into too much danger.
|1||Max Verstappen||RED BULL RACING HONDA RBPT||53||30:58.4||26|
|2||Lando Norris||MCLAREN MERCEDES||53||+19.387s||18|
|3||Oscar Piastri||MCLAREN MERCEDES||53||+36.494s||15|
|8||Fernando Alonso||ASTON MARTIN ARAMCO MERCEDES||53||+74.725s||4|
|9||Esteban Ocon||ALPINE RENAULT||53||+79.678s||2|
|10||Pierre Gasly||ALPINE RENAULT||53||+83.155s||1|
|11||Liam Lawson||ALPHATAURI HONDA RBPT||52||+1 lap||0|
|12||Yuki Tsunoda||ALPHATAURI HONDA RBPT||52||+1 lap||0|
|13||Zhou Guanyu||ALFA ROMEO FERRARI||52||+1 lap||0|
|14||Nico Hulkenberg||HAAS FERRARI||52||+1 lap||0|
|15||Kevin Magnussen||HAAS FERRARI||52||+1 lap||0|
|NC||Alexander Albon||WILLIAMS MERCEDES||26||DNF||0|
|NC||Logan Sargeant||WILLIAMS MERCEDES||22||DNF||0|
|NC||Lance Stroll||ASTON MARTIN ARAMCO MERCEDES||20||DNF||0|
|NC||Sergio Perez||RED BULL RACING HONDA RBPT||15||DNF||0|
|NC||Valtteri Bottas||ALFA ROMEO FERRARI||7||DNF||0|
|Note – Verstappen scored an additional point for setting the fastest lap of the race.|