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Suzuka Friday Report: Who’s Got Speed in the Land of the Rising Sun?

Written by Traber Burns, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri


For about an hour and 57 minutes, it was a very quiet Friday. Unlike Singapore, Suzuka is a much more predictable racetrack when it comes to track conditions, so the drivers were much more comfortable with the setups in FP1 than they were last weekend. There was a lot of feedback when it came to degradation. With long and fast corners, hot temperatures and high humidity, it’s not a surprise to see teams struggling with rear tire wear and temperature. In terms of qualifying, the results may come down to how well drivers can keep their tires cool. It’s not just the softs having issues with degradation. Oscar Piastri reported that his medium tires were “finished” after just five laps. This is probably on the extreme end, but there’s an opportunity for this race to be won on strategy.


The teams had another twist to deal with this Friday as Pirelli brought a test tire to the track. The prototype tire is supposed to be a possible replacement to the C2 tire as teams complained that there was a lack of performance with the current iteration. Unfortunately some of the drivers were not too pleased with it, summarized best by Lewis Hamilton’s blunt comment: “This tire is terrible dude.” Also on the prototype tire, Verstappen said the car was “moving around a lot at high speed.”


Red Bull

Things have returned to normal. After a downright awful weekend in Singapore, Max Verstappen is back to looking untouchable. His gap may be only three tenths, but he did very little qualifying running and set it fairly early in the session. In the words of Lando Norris “The Red Bull is just doing normal Red Bull.” On the other end, Sergio Perez’s team has some setup work to do overnight. The entire day was spent going back and forth on changes as he struggled with oversteer in the morning and understeer in the afternoon.

Image Credits: Mark Thompson/Getty Images

McLaren

Remember the excitement that came when realising that McLaren’s pace was legitimate around Silverstone? Suzuka has somewhat similar characteristics, so expect the papaya cars to be quick this weekend. After Lando Norris was the only driver to receive upgrades in Singapore, Piastri now has his half of the pie. With some additional upgrades on top of the Singapore package, the team broke curfew Thursday night to prepare both cars. Did the McLaren boys build a rocket ship last night? As always, upgraded cars take some time to dial in a good setup, and this was no different. Norris immediately complained, saying “Do I even have a front wing or something?” It’s possible the team believed they could get away with a lower downforce setup with the new upgrades. By the end of the afternoon, Norris found his footing, finishing the afternoon with a time good enough for third, right in between the two Ferraris.


While Oscar Piastri may have received the new upgrades, his pace still looks a little concerning. The Australian - who recently received a contract extension through 2026 - hasn’t been able to find his footing in the same way Lando has. Hopefully McLaren can provide him with some help by tomorrow morning.


Aston Martin:

The AMR23 can be an inconsistent one from session to session, and it showed both sides of that inconsistency today. In FP1, Alonso looked like he could challenge for best of the rest behind Verstappen. That speed faded in FP2, with his qualifying run failing to provide the same impression. Lance Stroll’s feedback was simply “The car is just really bad.”


Ferrari

The day didn’t start great for Ferrari as Carlos Sainz got a shower of Flow Viz from a McLaren coming down the front straight. After being a little anonymous in FP1, Ferrari found their ways again in FP2, getting second and fourth on the final board. Both Ferrari drivers complained of rear locking throughout the day, which is bad news on a track with high rear tire degradation.


Williams

The day wasn’t exactly smooth for the British team. In the morning session, Albon had a loose DRS flap early and reported some shifting issues. He also got some possible floor damage from - in his words - “skateboarding on the top in turn 9.” For those who love the technical side of F1, this car is a fan favorite. Their lap times are right around the top ten, but the most exciting part is watching them light up the speed trap. They’re F1’s version of the all out attacking football/soccer team. In FP2, Williams was at the top of all four speed traps. Simply lovely. Unfortunately, when it comes to overall performance, it’s a mixed bag. The car’s lack of downforce makes it vulnerable to sliding its tires, especially on heavy fuel. Both drivers reported overheating rear tires on their race runs. They might be able to have a solid Saturday, but Sunday may prove to be tough.

Image Credits: Clive Rose/Getty Images

Mercedes

Relax, Mercedes aren’t in trouble… yet. They may not have lit up the timing screens, but this has become the norm for them in 2023. Back in Hungary, their performance in practice was even worse, but after finding something overnight, they ended up putting it on pole. Don’t be fooled. The high speed corners and high tire degradation of Suzuka will suit their car very well. They just need some extra time to figure it out. Coming out of the gates this weekend, George complained of some vibrations through the wheel in FP1, and both drivers have generally been having troubles with the balance through turn two and the second half of the spoon curve. While George improved in FP2, Lewis seemed to take a step back. Some extra work overnight will be necessary, but never count out Mercedes. They’ve made a habit of getting much better as the weekend goes on. The silver arrows also like to do more medium and hard compound runs on Friday than most teams, likely in an effort to dial their setup to suit their strengths. Their pace at the end of the Singapore Grand Prix showed that the W14 comes alive at the end of a run on worn tires. All we can do is wait for Saturday.


Alpine

It was a nightmare Friday for the Enstone team. Both drivers were unhappy with their car’s balance, and the lap time wasn't helping. Despite being one of the last teams to do a qualifying run, neither driver could post a time within the top ten in FP2. The day would also be cut two and a half minutes short when Pierre Gasly ran wide and snagged the wall in turn 9, ripping the left front wheel off. Ever since Monza, the team have been treading water, and if practice is a proper indication of their performance, it doesn’t look like the momentum is going to change this weekend.

Image Credits: Clive Mason/Getty Images

Alfa Romeo

It seems like the C43 has a narrow window for performance. Most of the time, they’re nowhere, but every now and again, they put in a top-8 worthy lap time. The prototype tire really suited their car, putting up lap times early in FP2 that had them popping into the top five on occasion. With that being said, they still showed some really good speed throughout the day, even on the official tires. Unfortunately, Zhou’s afternoon was plagued with a brake pedal problem, saying that the pedal was going all the way to the floor. There’s still some promise of a Q2 appearance if the car is in the right window.


Haas

After grabbing a point in Singapore, the American team may have found a small mound of momentum. As far as one lap pace goes, the Haas looks decent. Like Alfa Romeo, they also seemed to do well on the prototype tire. They even produced good lap times on the softs. However, come Sunday, the Haas is another car that tends to struggle on its tires.


Alpha Tauri

Alpha Tauri is another team that will be working hard tonight, but the radio messages seem to indicate they're on the right path. In FP1, the team dealt with engine braking issues and instability in the low speed corners. The handling issues were much mundane, as they looked to have ironed out the kinks. The FP2 leaderboard doesn’t give them nearly enough credit, as both drivers were around the top ten in pace. Interestingly, Liam Lawson looked to have better pace over Yuki Tsunoda. The Kiwi is still looking strong.



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