Max Verstappen topped the first practice session for the 2023 Japanese Grand Prix, ahead of the Ferraris of Carlos Sainz and the McLaren of Lando Norris, by a margin.
The soon to be Triple Formula 1 Champion seemed to be insisting to rebuff all the rumors that his terrible Singapore weekend was down to the new FIA Technical Directive issued to stop teams from exploiting loopholes in the regulations with regards to flexible bodywork.
Verstappen went to the top of the timing screens from the start of the session, and remained there unchallenged, his advantage reaching almost 1.4s at some points in the session.
Carlos Sainz kept his advantage over Charles Leclerc, and was second fastest behind Verstappen, 0.626s slower, while Lando Norris was third fastest in the McLaren, 0.745s off the pace. Leclerc was fourth.
It was a disastrous race for the Bulls in Singapore, many were asking the FIA Technical Directive issued in the previous race clamping down on flexible bodywork was the reason behind that.
The good news is that there was no break between Singapore and Japan, and we can get to know the answers as soon as FP1.
Ferrari won with Sainz in Singapore, while Mercedes and McLaren challenged, so how will the three fare around the more conventional Suzuka?
Oscar Piastri will have the first taste of McLaren upgrade they brought to Singapore only on Norris’ car this weekend, not to mention he will be in high spirits given his new contract extension, while the impressive Liam Lawson will be the driver to follow to see how he goes around a track he knows very well.
As for the tyres this weekend, Pirelli have brought the C1 (Hard), C2 (Medium), and C3 (Soft) compounds to Japan, with an extra two sets of C2 2024 prototypes for testing.
FP1 started in cloudy conditions, with ambient temperatures being 28 degrees while the track temperatures in the region of 37 degrees.
Toto Wolff was absent from the Mercedes garage, as he was undergoing surgery, and was replaced by former F1 driver and Mercedes’ driver development director Jerome d’Ambrosio.
As mentioned, Pirelli have brought C2 prototypes to Suzuka, for the teams to test and those tyres can be identified as being fully black with no colored sidewalls.
Not much in terms of team updates, the teams did not bring much this weekend, with Red Bull running the new floor the brought to Singapore, but opted not to use at the time.
AlphaTauri brought a revised rear wing and rear view mirror while Williams brought revised floor fences to their FW45.
Ferrari brought a new floor body, with Mercedes having a revised rear wing, with McLaren bringing a revised beam wing and sidepod inlet, with Piastri getting the full upgrade from Singapore this weekend.
Aston Martin brought a revised front brake cooling duct to their AMR23.
With two extra sets of tyres, the teams were off to a busy start to their first practice session, and soon Verstappen was complaining about George Russell, he said: “That Mercedes was so dangerous in the way there.”
Esteban Ocon and Leclerc also complain about traffic, while Yuki Tsunoda complained about understeer in his AlphaTauri.
Logan Sargeant had a few wobbly moments during the session, in Turn 17 and then at Turn 9. Thankfully, no crashed though.
Verstappen was on a mission early on to show that his horrible weekend in Singapore was an outlier, and indeed he was leading the timing screens from the word go.
Halfway into the session, the Test runs on the Pirelli prototypes were done and the teams started running the Soft and Medium compounds.
Both drivers ran with the prototype tyre earlier but have now switched to the Mediums.
With his first run on Soft tyres, Verstappen blasted the field, setting a time, 1.396s faster than second place Sergio Perez, his teammate. That was 35 minutes into the session. Sainz soon moved closer to the Dutchman, 0.626s slower, while Leclerc was one second off.
A mention of Lance Stroll, the Canadian was back in the cockpit, after his horrible qualifying crash in Singapore, hopefully he had a clean Japanese weekend.
Piastri had a huge oversteer moment, as Lewis Hamilton also understeered into Turn 9 and hit the kerbs hard, while Zhou Guanyu survived a moment at Spoon.
With 20 minutes remaining, Lawson reported a few drops of rain on his visor. There was a 10% chance of rain according to the forecast. However, the conditions remained dry until the final five minutes when more drops could be seen on one of the track’s ponds.
In the final 15 minutes of the session, the teams put some fuel in their cars and set out to do some long runs, as Perez had a moment at Turn 18, cutting the chicane.