Max Verstappen remained in control at Suzuka, topping the second practice session for the Japanese Grand Prix, while Charles Leclerc closed the gap in the Ferrari.
The pecking order did not change a lot between FP1 and FP2, with Verstappen still leading the pack, while the Ferraris and the McLarens were fighting for the best-of-the-rest status.
However, the gap between the Red Bull ace and the chasing pack closed down after the second practice, as the Ferrari seemed to enjoy some decent qualifying speed, the McLaren especially with Lando Norris looking solid as well.
But Leclerc was the leading Ferrari driver in FP2, taking over from teammate Carlos Sainz who was faster earlier in the day.
Mercedes continued to struggle compared to Ferrari and McLaren, despite improving in FP2.
In the end it was Verstappen leading, Leclerc second, Norris third, Sainz fourth, and George Russell fifth, but the main conclusion from FP2 was the higher than expected tyre degradation.
The longs runs showed the Soft tyres were destroyed while the Medium compounds also did not hold up well, the Hard tyre being the best race tyre.
James Vowles said: “There’s quite a bit of tyre degradation, so it’s going to be an interesting race on Sunday.
“It’s due to the higher temperatures,” the Williams Team Principal clarified.
Buildup towards FP2
Verstappen did not wait long to reveal his plans for the Japanese Grand Prix, which are to simply ensure Singapore was a mere glitch in his 2023 Formula 1 campaign, and has nothing to do with the FIA Technical Directive on flexible bodywork.
He was the fastest in FP1, and straight out of the box be it on Pirelli prototypes or Soft tyres, the Dutchman just was on a level of his own.
Red Bull boss Christian Horner said after the first practice session: “Max lay down a statement of intent with his first flying lap of weekend which was truly impressive.
“On all three compounds of tyre including the development tyre we tried, the car seemed to be performing reasonably well.
“We have a good starting point, inevitably it will converge as we go through the sessions. We should hopefully have a strong car here this weekend,” the Briton added.
For the second weekend in a row, Sainz seemed to be in a good place with his SF-23, still having an advantage over Leclerc in the sister car, while Norris showed he will be a top three contender.
Mercedes on the other hand did not show any of their speed in FP1, both Lewis Hamilton and Russell not featuring in the top ten, but they usually get better as the weekend advances, and most importantly, they did not use the Soft tyre yet.
AlphaTauri seem to be in a good place as both Yuki Tsunoda and Liam Lawson made it into the top ten. Can they maintain their form?
Suzuka FP2 session highlights
While a few drops of rains were visible in the final part of FP1, dry, but cloudy, conditions prevailed as FP2 was green lighted, with ambient temperatures of 29 degrees, while track temperature was 40 degrees. As for the chance of rain? 10%.
Ten minutes into the session, and the only driver not to set a time was Verstappen, however he soon gets out on track with flow-vis on the diffuser of his RB19, and with Soft tyres bolted, he sets the fastest time with a gap of seven and half tenths.
Verstappen was the only driver to run the Softs, as other drivers were on a mix of Medium and Test tyres.
Have you noticed some tyres without sidewall markings during #JapaneseGP practice? 🧐
Hamilton, meanwhile, ran wide on the kerbs at Turn 9, he radioed the team: “Is my floor ok?”
Kevin Magnussen almost ended up rear ending the Ferrari of Sainz while on a flying lap going into Turns 1 and 2.
Tsunoda on the other hand had a moment at the hairpin, but keeps it on track and gets going again, while Alex Albon also had a moment on the kerbs and asked the team to check the floor. Valtteri Bottas on the other hand locked up heavily.
The first run for Russell on Soft tyres put him over six tenths slower than Verstappen, but worryingly slower than Leclerc who was second fastest on Mediums. Hamilton was over eight tenths slower than Verstappen on his first run on Softs!
Bolting on the Soft tyre for the first time today. George goes P3 and Lewis goes P6 with those initial efforts in FP2. 😊 pic.twitter.com/MtPQCczhKY
Verstappen clocked a 1:30.688 lap time around Suzuka in FP2 to go fastest of all, 0.320s ahead of Leclerc in second, with Norris 0.144s further down the road in third.
Sainz was fourth fastest in the other Ferrari, 0.229s off his teammate’s pace, but was 0.091s ahead of Russell, fifth fastest in the Mercedes. Hamilton was 14th fastest, half a second slower than his teammate.
Fernando Alonso was sixth fastest for Aston Martin with a 1:31.492, and was 0.063s ahead of Albon, again superb for Williams in seventh.
Piastri was eighth fastest in the McLaren, 0.974s off the pace, ahead of Perez who was ninth, 0.048s behind the Australian rookie.
Valtteri Bottas was tenth fastest, 1.051s down on the top timing.