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.
remaining consistent in 2024 👊 we’re very happy to announce that Yuki, Daniel and Liam will continue with the team into next year 🙌 pic.twitter.com/qZ2NarlZIS