Max Verstappen and Red Bull returned to their pace-setting form in the first hour of the race in Japan, with the Dutch rider setting early pace in the first practice session to comfortably outpace rivals Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris.
Just five days after an action-packed evening in Singapore, the drivers made their way to Japan for the second race of the doubleheader. But unlike Singapore, where it was hot and humid, they were greeted by slightly cooler conditions in Suzuka.
As the lights turned green to begin the weekend’s action, it was Verstappen who led the drivers out, with Red Bull looking to start strongly in a bid to return to winning ways after their difficult outing in Singapore.
Besides this, this session will also see teams testing the new version of the C2 tire ahead of next season. This means that all drivers will have two additional sets of tires compared to the usual 13, with all teams running the prototype tire during the session.
After the first 20 minutes of running, it was Verstappen who led the way, his time of 1m32.442s on the prototype tire being 0.724s faster than second-placed Fernando Alonso.
We then saw a series of laps come on the soft tire as Verstappen once again timed it to get past him. His lap of one minute and 31.647 seconds put him at the top of the time sheets in the first practice, with his closest rival, Sainz, 0.626 seconds behind the pace.
Norris left the position late to take third place with McLaren, ahead of Leclerc, whose Ferrari duo put him in the top four, although he was three tenths behind his teammate Sainz. Meanwhile, home favorite Yuki Tsunoda impressed to finish fifth for AlphaTauri.
Alonso finished sixth for Aston Martin, ahead of Oscar Piastri – who has just signed a new contract extension with McLaren – Alex Albon’s Williams, and Liam Lawson’s AlphaTauri.
Drivers tested the new version of the C2 tire in the first practice session in Japan ahead of next season
Lance Stroll returned off the track after missing the Singapore Grand Prix due to precautionary measures following an accident in qualifying, and finished tenth with Aston Martin, ahead of Red Bull’s second driver, Sergio Perez, who fell in 11th place.
Pierre Gasly was the main Alpine driver in twelfth, ahead of George Russell’s Mercedes – although he and his Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton did not use the soft tires – while Haas’ Nico Hulkenberg finished thirteenth.
Esteban Ocon dropped back to 15th in the other Alpine car, ahead of Hamilton, Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas and Haas’ Kevin Magnussen. Logan Sargeant finished 19th for Williams, while Zhu Guanyu brought up the back of the field for Alfa Romeo.
The drivers will now review the data and debrief with their teams before preparing for the second practice session in Japan later today at 1500 local time.
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