Hello, this Japanese Grand Prix was as we expected following the defeat in Singapore Max Verstappen bounced back dominating the weekend. It now allows him to go into the next race in Doha with two opportunities to wrap up the championship, while for a while it appears to be when he wraps up a third world title and that could be on Saturday night being the first driver to do it in a sprint.
The FIA is expected to reject applications from three of the four prospective new teams, with Andretti Global’s effort understood to be the sole remaining bidder. The bid by Andretti and Cadillac has been successful it’s understood by Motorsport-Total.
The three other bidders were the F2 teams Hitech and Rodin Carlin had also submitted applications, along with start-up Asian effort LKYSUNZ. However there is still no official information from the governing body concerning which new teams, if any, will be accepted. F1 has the final say on any new team who would pay around £175m dilution fee. But over the past eighteen months, the ten teams have voiced opposition to new entries.
An announcement from LKYSUNZ on Friday claimed that it was prepared to pay a dilution fee of $600 million, thanks to backing from a new billionaire investor from Florida. This was met with surprise by employees of existing F1 teams amid speculation that LKYSUNZ staff have been informed it has been turned down by the FIA, prompting them to apply for jobs elsewhere.
Why LKYSUNZ, Hitech and Rodin Carlin were rejected is not known at this point. To receive a positive decision in the FIA application process, new teams must not only prove that they have sufficient financial resources but also demonstrate a plan on how the project will be environmentally sustainable in order to achieve net zero CO2 emissions by 2030.
FP1 saw Max Verstappen top the times with a 31.647, going six-tenths faster than the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris. On his only soft run, Norris was two tenths faster than the second Ferrari of Charles Leclerc, who made a mistake going wide at the hairpin.
FP2 Verstappen continued to top the times but was four hundredths slower with a 30.688, but Leclerc halved the gap going only three-tenths slower. Norris once again spilt the Ferrari’s a tenth behind Leclerc and a tenth ahead of Sainz. George Russell put his Mercedes fifth he was six-tenths off Verstappen.
Qualifying saw Verstappen take pole by six-tenths ahead of Oscar Piastri and Norris with the largest pole margin at Suzuka in twenty years. Verstappen looked unstoppable, his first lap in Q3 was fast enough for pole but he then improved by a tenth and a half.
Verstappen continued to dominate the weekend taking victory ahead of Norris and Piastri, single-handedly delivering Red Bull the constructors championship, following a nightmare race for teammate Sergio Perez. The Red Bull driver fended off Norris at both the start and restart following a safety car, Despite the fears of the threat from Russell, at the second stop Piastri managed to overcut the Mercedes to take third his first Grand Prix podium.
Going into this weekend one of the big questions was phrased well by Lewis Hamilton who said “something (will be) up,” if Red Bull is not back at their normal level this weekend. The common consensus about Red Bull in Singapore is it was a one-off.
Hamilton said, “I would think if they are not thirty seconds ahead like they have been in the past then something’s up. It was a difficult weekend, the last one, but their car should be phenomenal here. They have been phenomenal all year.”
Russell also echoed and amplified Hamilton’s comments about Red Bull’s competitiveness. He believes that McLaren will be the best of the rest but also Singapore was a “one-off” in terms of Red Bull’s drop in performance. We ….
Russell also insisted he will not repeat mistakes like the one which cost him a podium at the Singapore Grand Prix when he and Mercedes are in a world championship fight. The Mercedes driver crashed out in the closing stages after clipping the wall in the fight for second with Lando Norris.
Saying “I knew that myself, to be honest. I knew that myself and I take pride in that. We went all in for the victory. We’re pushing ourselves above and beyond every single lap, we’re going against the best drivers in the world and on a circuit like that, you’ve only got to make a mistake by a couple of centimetres and you’re off.“
Russell says he got distracted when it happened, possibly caused by Norris touching the wall ahead of him.
Following practice, Russell thinks a “strange” track surface at Suzuka has triggered massive tyre degradation. One of the talking points on Friday was the lack of grip and in the pre-weekend notes the section between the start of the Essess (Turns Three and Four) and the whole of the Dunlop Curve have been resurfaced.
He suggested that the asphalt, which includes newly laid sections through Turns Three, Four and Seven, was not behaving as anticipated. he said, “There seems to be a huge amount of tyre degradation,” “It’s really weird in Suzuka. It is one of the best tracks in the world to drive.”
“But this year it feels like the tarmac has really broken up and the cars are sliding on top of the surface. It’s given a bit of a strange feeling to all the drivers out there, and that’s what’s contributing towards that tyre degradation.”
With Pirelli bringing the hardest of its compounds to Japan, low degradation could have moved it towards a one-stop. As Russell pointed out, last weekend as a good example with the third sector in Singapore it has high grip and that means there isn’t much tyre deg.
Russell was not too downbeat about the performance of his Mercedes car, which seemed to be in the middle of the chasing pack behind Red Bull. He added “It was a half reasonable day, to be honest. Red Bull are back to the normal ways, which I don’t think is a major surprise. For many, they seem very, very quick.
Overnight on Friday, Mercedes made a series of set-up changes designed to focus on the low-speed sector one where through the Esses the tyres get too hot and that where they lose performance.
Following qualifying, Hamilton said that he struggled with rear downforce and put his car “on a knife-edge.” Following the set up change, Hamilton was fourth in FP3 before settling for seventh in Q3 three tenths ahead of Russell with Mercedes clearly were the fourth-fastest team.
He added: “We have a very peaky car. When we talk about knife edge, it’s literally like trying to balance a knife on its tip. And it’s that car, it’s impossible. So it is never perfectly balanced, it’s one way or the other, you either oversteer or you’ve got massive understeer, you can never get in the middle.”
In the race both drivers had a heated battle for third before Russell lost out in the closing stages to Carlos Sainz. I think that this was natural they both look to be pushing the team back towards being champions, but despite his frustration with the team he was happy to achieve the “maximum” result possible.
Hamilton said, “Definitely the maximum today. It was a tough day in the office to be honest, a real struggle out there with our car. But trying to give it absolutely everything, trying to get ahead at least one of the Ferraris, which I’m grateful we did through great teamwork. We are a long, long way off, we’ve got a lot of work today.”
The first drama between them was early on in the race on lap six, when both Hamilton and Russell went wide at Degner Two, Russell also downplayed the tussle between the two, insisting it is all “part of racing”. He also explained how his radio message about the message was simply about being in the heat of battle.
Russell explained, “In the moment you say some things on the radio just to get that frustration out. We obviously lost a bit of time together but all part of racing. I felt a lot more comfortable and faster in the car at that time of the race.
“Obviously made the first overtake, lost it down the straight which was annoying, and the second chance where he had his right to the line, so part of racing. It wasn’t for any big positions and at the end didn’t change our race result whatsoever. So, on to the next.”
On Thursday, Max Verstappen said that “you’re not a real fan” if you don’t appreciate Red Bull’s domination, and instead see it as a negative for the sport. In Singapore last Sunday, the Dutchman’s run of ten consecutive wins came to an end when he finished fifth.
Asked by Motorsport.com in Suzuka if he could see a bigger picture of Sainz’s win being good for F1, Verstappen made it clear that he didn’t agree. Saying, “Honestly, I have zero interest in that. For me, it was just we got beaten, in a very clear way. I don’t think about what is good for F1.”
“I don’t think it’s necessarily bad what was happening to F1, because we were just better than everyone else.” We know when you have one team dominating the sport, whether that be Ferrari in the early 2000s, Red Bull in the early 2010s and now, Mercedes in the mid and late 2010s, that interest tends to drop off.
Following topping both of Friday’s practice sessions, Verstappen said the car was “enjoyable to drive again” as he bounced back from a difficult Singapore. He ended both practice sessions fastest, three-tenths faster than Charles Leclerc in FP2. But on Friday Red Bull quickly allayed any fears that its Singapore struggles had carried over to the vastly different Suzuka layout.
Verstappen said on Friday evening, “It felt really good today. From lap one the car was enjoyable to drive again. It seems like we had a strong day, on short runs, long runs… There’s a lot of degradation on this track, so it will be quite tough on tyres in the race. But so far we had a good start to the weekend.”
We know the consensus has been in recent days that Red Bull would bounce back because Marina Bay is an outlier in design and conditions. But it did still look competitive we know the normal caveat apply in practice, however the way Red Bull have dominated the season its very hard to see them being beaten.
Sergio Perez had a less straightforward day after balance problems in FP1 were only partially addressed in FP2, as the Mexican finished ninth and a full second down on his team-mate. He said “We had problems with the balance of the car in FP1, we tried to improve it a bit in FP2. I think we have some pretty good understanding of the direction we need to take.
Verstappen’s victory saw Red Bull wrap up the constructor’s title, but at the start the Dutchman fought with the two McLarens before being “lucky” when he found grip on the inside of Two. From then on as he has done so at several races this season went on to win the race comfortably by nearly twenty seconds.
Explaining his defensive efforts, Verstappen explained that both McLaren cars had made a “jump” off the line and that keeping the inside line from Piastri’s clutches was his first port of call. He said, “I tried to close off Oscar but he was still there, and then I saw on the left side Lando coming with a lot more speed. He then moved a bit to the right and I was like, ‘I can’t go more to the right!’. So I was trying to get it straightened and luckily, nothing happened.”
“It all got quite close, but that’s racing, that’s how it goes at the start. We also had a good battle also into Turn 1, into Turn 2. But I was lucky, I think, that there was a bit more grip in Turn 2, just on the normal line instead of trying to go around the outside.:
Reflecting on his sixteenth win of the season, Verstappen said “It’s an unbelievable weekend. To win here was great. I think the car was working really well on every [tyre] compound. But of course, the most important was also to win the constructors’. I’m very proud of everyone working at the track but also back at the factory. We’re having an incredible year.”
I am running out of words to describe his season, it was one of those impressive drives and we know he has been the teams leader all season with the brilliant form with not much rivalry from his teammate Perez.
Perez’s difficult season continued, in frankly strange circumstances, but let’s start at the beginning he had contact with Hamilton on the opening lap, picked up a penalty for breaching the Safety Car regulations and then another penalty for clashing with Haas rival Kevin Magnussen. Resulting in two front wings before retiring early on and was given a time penalty.
In the closing stages, Red Bull sent him back out to serve those penalties so he wouldn’t have to carry them to the race in Lusail. He said, “It was just a disastrous weekend. It all started into Turn One with a really bad start. I was squeezed and was just a passenger there, in a sandwich. I think we carried a lot of damage in the car as well and that just made it a lot harder for us.”
I think while beating Verstappen is hard, he isn’t doing the job he was brought to do which is being the wingman. I think next year he needs to up his game with Daniel Ricciardo being retained by Alpha Tauri, and Liam Lawson being placed as reserve he needs to deliver in 2024.
Charles Leclerc says next year’s Ferrari will be “very different” from their 2023 car hoping recent learnings about the SF23’s weaknesses will ensure next year’s car is more successful. This season the team has been inconsistent with his form, but in. Singapore, teammate Carlos Sainz took the first non-Red Bull win of the season
Leclerc hopes the recent learning and further tests the team can do in the remaining seven races of this season will ensure Ferrari hit the ground running in 2024. Leclerc said “We learnt plenty during Monza, especially about our weaknesses. After Monza we understood more things which are good for this year even though it will be a small step in the right direction but mostly for designing next year’s car which is positive.”
He says next years car will be different and suggests that their was still a lot to learn, adding, “The more we learn, the better it is for doing the last few details for next year’s car. It’s super important and it was really good to understand that before the end of the season.”
I think we are at the point in the year where Red Bull’s rivals are shifting focus to 2024, they have realistically wrapped up both titles. But Leclerc admits it’s hard to say until that’s all completed how successful that has been.
With Ferrari embarking on a new philosophy for 2024, team principal Fred Vasseur is confident they will not suffer a similar fate to what Mercedes have had this year. Mercedes at the start of the year continued with the ‘zero sidepod concept’ but ditched it after testing in Bahrain.
He is optimistic the learnings Ferrari are making from the SF23 will stand them in good stead for 2024. Vasseur said, “I prefer to do good results than bad results. For sure this will help for the future – it’s a better understanding of the car, better understanding of the set-up of the car.”
But the thing, which Vassuer admitted, is that the team can’t do what they’ve done in the past thinking they will suddenly be world championship contenders. Again its part of this changing of culture which started under Mattia Binotto and has been accelerated by Vasseur, Ferrari want to be championship contenders again and we are in a new era with the budget cap and ATA, they can’t throw money at it.
Sainz says despite his victory in Singapore, Ferrari’s car weaknesses are still unchanged, again playing into that narrative this week that Singapore was lucky and the team still found it hard to replicate single-lap pace into race pace.
But while taking the first non-Red Bull win of the season was a much-needed tonic for Ferrari, Sainz cautioned that its SF-23 hasn’t actually changed and still displays unpredictable handling traits ahead of a clean slate design for 2024.
When Motorsport.com asked him if Ferrari had managed to cure its unpredictability. Sainz replied, “No, honestly there is nothing fundamental that has changed on the car since the beginning of the season. The car is still obviously not great in some areas, very good in others and there’s certain tracks like Monza and Singapore that the car has adapted to very well, while there are other tracks like Zandvoort and Silverstone where it was very difficult to drive.”
With Red Bull wrapping up the constructors this weekend, the focus shifts to the battle for second between Ferrari and Mercedes, with the latter having a twenty-point lead with six races remaining. Leclerc said following the race he was bracing himself for a tight battle with Mercedes over second place.
Reflecting on his race, which included a bold, late move on the one-stopping Russell around the outside of Turns 1 and 2, Leclerc said: “The McLarens were really strong today. There wasn’t much we could have done better. I had to be really aggressive on the pass to George in order to not lose too much time, and that worked well, and then just managed my tyres to the end, so I’m happy with today’s performance.”
This is going to be the story after Verstappen wraps up his title, I think that it is too close to call given how close it has been and the up/down race-by-race performance changes. But Ferrari and Mercedes look to be fighting hard for second, they both need to get everything right and be consistent.
As for Sainz, the Spaniard made his final stop later than those around him and had to stage a mini fightback in the closing laps, crossing the line just eight-tenths behind Hamilton. Sainz added, “When it came to race pace I could get into my rhythm, manage my tyres well and had honestly very, very strong pace. Unfortunately we couldn’t show it as we were always in the dirty air and a bit stuck.”
McLaren have extended their contract with Oscar Piastri until the end of 2026. The twenty-two-year-old has impressed in his debut season alongside Lando Norris, joining the club of drivers to watch for the future. Norris is contracted to McLaren until the end of 2025.
Piastri said: “I want to be fighting it out at the front of the grid with this team and I am excited by the vision and foundations that are already being laid to get us there. The welcome that I have received and the relationships that I have built make this feel like home already.”
The team had a brilliant qualifying, with Piastri second and Norris third behind Max Verstappen. After qualifying, Norris joked the only way he could win the race was if his teammate crashed into Max Verstappen, like the Prost/Senna incident in 1990. Norris was half a second off the Dutchman and was four hundredths further ahead.
Norris explained that McLaren would “try” to take the fight to Verstappen, but deadpanned that there was not a lot that the team could do unless Piastri resorted to more nefarious tactics to open the path ahead. The crash in which Senna refused to yield the inside line while behind Prost at the start which caused a first-corner collision that secured the Brazilian the world title.
He said “We’re going to try [to beat Verstappen], but if he’s leading by Turn 2, there’s not a lot you can really do. If you want to emulate Senna [‘s move on Prost], Oscar, into Turn 1 and do that happily, it would be lovely for me! We’ll try, I think our race pace is decent, it’s definitely not going to be as good as the Red Bull, but we’ll do our best.”
Piastri, aim going into the race was to repeat what the start of Silverstone, if they could get ahead at Turn One. Saying “I mean, we tried our best in Silverstone so we’ll try and do the same thing, but obviously it’s going to be difficult. I think it’s going to be a very difficult race tomorrow as well, very different to Silverstone in that regard. It could be a lot more open.”
McLaren’s recovery continues with Norris finishing second and Piastri scoring his first Grand Prix podium, but taking the fight to Verstappen looked never to be likely. But you’ve got to give Norris credit for trying on the opening lap before Verstappen sailed off to a nearly twenty-second win.
Norris said, “Another amazing day for us. A P2 and P3, so we couldn’t have asked for any more. My start was very good, I almost had Max, but Max is Max, so I didn’t have a lot of chance into Turn 2. I tried, but the pace was extremely strong today, comparing to everyone. We are not close to Max, but we are not miles away either, so it was a very good day, and also for Oscar, it was his first podium in F1, so congrats to him.”
McLaren I think are the most improved team from where they were in Bahrain, I think if they had this car from the start of the season they could have been fighting with Ferrari, Aston and Mercedes for best of the rest behind Red Bull. They have two great drivers and recent contract extensions show they are on the right path towards the front.
Piastri wound up seventeen seconds further back but was nonetheless delighted to record his first podium finish in a Grand Prix. He added “It feels pretty special, definitely. I’ll remember it for a very long time. I can’t thank the team enough for giving me this opportunity.
“There’s not many people in the world that get this opportunity in their whole life, and I’ve managed to have in my first season. It wasn’t my best race ever, but it was enough to get a trophy at the end, so I’m super happy.”
Acting team principal Bruno Famin says the team did the right thing by asking Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon to swap places on the final lap of the race. Gasly was asked to give Ocon eighth having failed to progress having been given the position to try to go after Fernando Alonso.
The team used team orders to try and chase after the Aston Martin, with Gasly looking the best to chase Alonso, when it became clear that Gasly was not going to get close enough to Alonso, it issued the order for him to reverse their positions. Gasly said he didn’t know why the call was made
Saying “As a team tenth and ninth or ninth and tenth is the same, but it was definitely not something I expected. It’s not something I really understand as well as I was the leading car, so we’ll talk about it.”
But Famin, said there is no reason for anyone to be upset over what happened, as he played down talk of tension within the outfit. He explained, “We don’t have any problem between the drivers. I think it’s [because] they are all fighting for having their own best results, which is normal and what they are paid for. But they are also paid for having the best team results.”
I think that late in the race is too late to make that call and their this season has been friction between Gasly and Ocon, the only situation I think that would be OK if one was in a tight championship fight. But I struggle to see the logic as they gained nothing in terms of points and it’s not like they are realistically fighting for fifth with McLaren in the constructors.
Asked if he was surprised and disappointed that Gasly had vented his frustrations in public, rather than dealing with matters behind closed doors, Famin said: “No more than the other guys. They are fighters, just right after the race, they are disappointed, it’s normal.
On Saturday the team, as expected announced that Yuki Tsunoda and Daniel Ricciardo with Liam Lawson returning to a Red Bull reserve role next year. Tsunoda will be handed a fourth season at the Faenza outfit, while the currently injured Ricciardo will get a full season with the team after his mid-season comeback this summer.
Prior to the announcement their had been speculation that the decision had been made more complicated in recent weeks thanks to reserve driver Lawson’s impressive performances as Ricciardo’s replacement. However, Red Bull has now decided to stick to Tsunoda and Ricciardo for AlphaTauri’s 2024 driver line-up, with New Zealander Lawson to resume his reserve driver duties for both its teams.
Tsunoda said, “I’m looking forward to continuing to fight and collaborate with the team and Daniel. I’m grateful for Red Bull and Honda, for continuing to support and believe in me, and very happy and thankful to continue the partnership.”
Ricciardo added: “I’m stoked to be driving with Yuki again next year and continuing the journey with AlphaTauri. Following the progress we have already made and the plans for the future, it’s an exciting time for the team. We are building and it is a great feeling.”
Outgoing team principal Franz Tost praised Tsunoda’s progress as he matured into an accomplished racer with the Italian squad and added that he is convinced Lawson “will have a future in Formula 1 soon”.
I think Alpha Tauri may have been a bit wary to trow Lawson in like they did with Nyck de Vries after Monza last year because despite the promise he was dropped following Silverstone. Giving him a chance could make the team nervous though Tost says that Lawson “will be a grand prix driver, and he already is a grand prix driver, at some stage.”
Meanwhile, Ricciardo’s return in Qatar looks in doubt as he continue to recover from his broken hand. He has not raced since Spa follow his crash in FP2 at Zandvoort at the end of August, but the resumption of his 2023 F1 comeback looks set to be pushed back to allow further time to recuperate from his accident.
The teams head of trackside engineering Jonathan Eddolls explained that the team has a simulator programme planned for Ricciardo to assess the mobility and any lingering effects of the crash in his hand. Saying the team would not force the Australian to return prematurely, and that it may be “a while away” before Ricciardo is back in an F1 seat.
Eddolls explained, “He’s still going through that recovery phase. We’re still talking a while away, so we wouldn’t want to put a target on it. The recovery is going well. We’ve got some simulator work planned before a return.”
“I think from our side and his side, there’s no rush to get him back too early. The worst thing would be to come back before it’s properly healed and cause any issues. So watch this space. He will know better than anyone how is the pain and how is the recovery. We’re not putting him under pressure to come back. We’ve got a pool of three good drivers at the moment, so there’s no big rush.”
Facts and stats (F1.com)
- Red Bull clinched their second consecutive constructors’ championship, and their sixth overall.
- Today was the thirteenth consecutive time Verstappen has won when starting from pole position, beating Michael Schumacher’s previous record. It was Verstappen’s thirteenth win of the season, which is tied for the second-most in any season (with Michael Schumacher in 2004 and Sebastian Vettel in 2013).
- It was Verstappen’s twenty-eighth win since the start of last season (his win tally in 2022-23 would be ninth on the all-time win list on its own).
- McLaren’s Lando Norris finished second for the fourth time in the last seven races. Norris now has ten career podiums without a win. Only four other drivers have as many podiums without a victory – Nick Heidfeld, Stefan Johansson, Chris Amon and Romain Grosjean.
- Oscar Piastri joins Jack Brabham, Tim Schenken, Alan Jones, Mark Webber and Daniel Ricciardo as Australian F1 podium finishers.
- Lewis Hamilton mathematically can take second in the drivers if he wins both the race and sprint with Sergio Perez failing to score in Lusail.
Red Bull – Honda RBPT
|1||Max Verstappen||NED||Red Bull – Honda RBPT||01:30:58.421||25|
|2||Lando Norris||GBR||McLaren – Mercedes||+00:19.387||18|
|3||Oscar Piastri||AUS||McLaren – Mercedes||+00:36.494||15|
|Max Verstappen||NED||Red Bull – Honda RBPT||01:34.163||1|
|1||Max Verstappen||420||Red Bull||623|
|4||Fernando Alonso||174||Aston Martin – Mercedes||221|
|5||Carlos Sainz||150||McLaren – Mercedes||112|