Max Verstappen topped the final practice session for the 2023 Japanese Grand Prix ahead of the McLarens of Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri.

Suzuka FP3: Verstappen fastest, Norris and Piastri chase

Max Verstappen topped the final practice session for the 2023 Japanese Grand Prix ahead of the McLarens of Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri.

Max Verstappen topped the final practice session for the 2023 Japanese Grand Prix ahead of the McLarens of Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri.

However the gap between Verstappen and second-placed Norris was less than three tenths, which means the stage is set for an exciting qualifying session.

With Piastri third fastest, McLaren seem to be the sole challengers for Verstappen in the fight for pole in a few hours time after practice as Ferrari seemed to have dropped back, while Mercedes also seem far from contention despite some improvement from Friday.

However it seems that Charles Leclerc will be leading the Ferrari charge this weekend, as he has been faster than winner of the Singapore Grand Prix Carlos Sainz.

Sergio Perez continued to struggle compared to his teammate, the Mexican fourth fastest and over seven tenths off the pace.

The name of the game in qualifying will be how to manage the tyres throughout the lap to make sure they do not overhear towards the end of it given the punishment Suzuka imposes on the Pirelli rubber.

Buildup towards FP3

From what we saw on Friday in FP1 and FP2, it us fair to say that Red Bull and Verstappen are heading towards another weekend of dominance at Suzuka, following their troubled Singapore Grand Prix.

The reigning Formula 1 Champion looked in great form all Friday, topping both sessions, as it seems the fight behind him will be interesting as McLaren and Ferrari look very close, while the latter may trouble Verstappen in qualifying.

However, Red Bull showed formidable race pace during the long runs on Friday, meaning whatever goes down in qualifying, the race will be another cruise for Verstappen.

The long runs as well from Friday also showed that tyre degradation will be a factor in the race as the rate at which they were wearing out was quite high setting the stage for an interesting grand prix, with most teams saving their Hard tyres till Sunday.

Saturday started at Suzuka with AlphaTauri announcing that Yuki Tsunoda and Daniel Ricciardo will drive for the team in 2024, while Liam Lawson – currently standing in for Ricciardo – will have to settle for a reserve role for the team as well as Red Bull.

Suzuka FP3 session highlights

The session started in clear conditions, less clouds over the track whose temperature increased to 44 degrees ahead of FP3, while the ambient temperature was 28 degrees. Risk of rain, 0%.

The start of the session was somehow sluggish, but soon Ferrari drivers, Sainz and Leclerc set out on the track and posted the first times. Norris and Piastri soon followed in the McLaren

Ferrari warned Leclerc that the wind was more tense compared to Friday as he head out on track.

George Russell reported gear-sync issues on his warmup lap in the W14. He said: “I don’t have gear sync, is that expected?”

“Negative, that is unexpected,” the Briton’s race engineer responded.

On his first lapped time, Verstappen puts in three purple sectors and goes fastest, but only 0.214s faster than Norris, who was on top just before…

Halfway into the session the standings were: Verstappen – Norris – Leclerc – Lewis Hamilton – Russell – Perez – Piastri – Sainz – Kevin Magnussen – Alex Albon.

Albon, who had new brakes installed on his FW45 overnight, reported that they felt strange, and indeed he locks up on track.

Perez still seemed to be struggling in the his RB19, and almost lost it into Turn 16 on a times lap. He was over eight tenths off the pace with 24 minutes remaining.

Hamilton seemed to be in a better place with his W14 on Saturday after struggling notably on Friday, but he remained far off the pace.

The seven-time F1 Champion, however, will be enjoying his special chrome helmet for the Japanese Grand Prix.

Less than 20 minutes from the end, both Ferrari drivers had moments on track, Leclerc almost losing it at Turn 9, Sainz at Turn 8.

In the final 15 minutes, the teams bolted new Soft tyres for a final qualifying simulations as they prepare for the actual shootout later today.

The McLarens went first and shot to the top of the timing screens, Norris leading Piastri. Verstappen soon responds and goes fastest, as the Ferraris set out for their final qualifying simulations.

Notably, Verstappen warns his team from a slower AlphaTauri ahead of him on track, but his engineer responds:
“Don’t stress yourself out about it Max.”

Ferrari could not improve much on their final qualifying simulations with Leclerc fifth and Sainz sixth.

In the final moments of the session, Tsunoda and Magnussen had a moment on track, the Japanese driver not happy with the Dane who was driving slowly ruining his fast lap.

The drivers did their practice starts at the end of the session as usual…

Replay showed that Russell’s Mercedes was being taken apart by the mechanics, any of the related to the earlier gear sync issues?

How the finished

Verstappen clocked a 1:30.267 lap around Suzuka to go fastest, 0.240s ahead of Norris in second and 0.288s faster than Piastri in third.

The gap then jumps to 0.737s. That is where Perez is in fourth place, and 0.018s ahead of Leclerc, fifth fastest in the Ferrari.

Sainz was sixth fastest in the other Ferrari, 0.115s off the pace of his teammate and 0.022s ahead of Hamilton, seventh fastest in the Mercedes.

Russell was eighth fastest in the sister Mercedes with a 1:31.505 lap, over one second off the pace and 0.044s ahead of Fernando Alonso in the Aston Martin who was only ninth.

Zhou Guanyu was tenth fastest in the Alfa Romeo, 1.404s off the ultimate pace of Verstappen.

Worth noting, that despite some strong showing on Friday, AlphaTauri dropped back in FP3, Tsunoda 14th fastest, Lawson in 17th.

The Alpines do not seem to be in a good place as well, with Esteban Ocon only 13th fastest, while Pierre Gasly – who crashed in FP2 – was dead last.

FP3 Results