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F1 - Verstappen and Red Bull back to their best in first free practice session for Japanese Grand Prix 


After suffering a rare off-weekend in Singapore last time out, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was back to his imperious best in the opening practice session for this weekend’s 2023 FIA Formula 1 Japanese Grand Prix, topping the FP1 timesheet by well over half a second. Carlos Sainz got closest to the championship-leading Dutchman, though the Ferrari driver still ended the session 0.626 adrift. Third place went to McLaren’s Lando Norris

Verstappen was quickly into the groove at the iconic Suzuka circuit with the Red Bull driver setting the early pace with a lap of 1:33.719 set on hard tyres. After completing five laps on the white-banded tyre, he headed for the pit land and after moving to the test tyres on offer from Pirelli this weekend he improved his P1 time with a tour of 1:32.597. That put the Dutchman a comfortable 1.6s ahead of the chasing pack. 

With a quarter hour gone in the session, Verstappen’s Red Bull team-mate Sergio Pérez made it a Red Bull 1-2, although the Mexican driver, who had an equally tough time on the streets of Singapore, still found himself 1.2 seconds off his team-mate. Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso then arrived to split the Red Bulls, taking second with a 1:33.166.

Verstappen, still on the test tyres, then went quicker with a lap of 132.442. Mercedes’ George Russell moved up to third fastest behind Pérez but Alonso was soon back in the top three with a lap of 1:33.166 on mediums, while Nico Hülkenberg went fourth fastest for Haas on softs. 

As the half hour point arrived the majority of the field began to move soft tyres. Pérez, on the red-banded rubber, posted a lap of 1:33.043 but that still left him 0.601s off his team-mate's earlier time set on the test tyres.

Verstappen then emerged on the soft tyres and the championship leader raced ahead with a lap of 1:31.647, 1.396 ahead of Pérez. Ferrari also moved onto the Softs, and Sainz went second quickest with a lap of 1:32.273. 0.626s off Verstappen, while Leclerc slotted into third, four-tenths off his team-mate with a 1:32.693. Alonso then popped up again to split the Ferraris with a lap of 1:32.650, four hundredths of a second ahead of Leclerc. 

Behind the top four, Williams’ Alex Albon put in a good lap to take fifth place on the timesheet , with the equally impressive Liam Lawson taking sixth.

With a little over 10 minutes to go both were eclipsed by Norris, the McLaren driver putting in a 1:32.880 to move ahead of both on medium tyres. Local hero Yuki Tsunoda was not to be outdone, though, and the Japanese driver took his AlphaTauri to P4, ahead of Alonso, with a crowd-pleasing time of 1:32.597.

Although most of the field moved to harder compound tyres in the closing 10 minutes, McLaren left their efforts on Softs to late in the session and in the final moments with Piastri going  seventh fastest while Norris jumped to third quickest ahead of Leclerc and Tsunoda. 

2023 FIA Formula 1 Japanese Grand Prix – Free Practice 1 
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:31.647 25 228.105
2 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 1:32.273 0.626 24 226.558
3 Lando Norris McLaren 1:32.392 0.745 24 226.266
4 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:32.574 0.927 25 225.821
5 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 1:32.597 0.950 21 225.765
6 Fernando Alonso Aston Martin 1:32.650 1.003 23 225.636
7 Oscar Piastri McLaren 1:32.713 1.066 26 225.482
8 Alexander Albon Williams 1:32.991 1.344 24 224.808
9 Liam Lawson AlphaTauri 1:33.005 1.358 28 224.775
10 Lance Stroll Aston Martin 1:33.040 1.393 17 224.690
11 Sergio Pérez Red Bull 1:33.043 1.396 25 224.683
12 Pierre Gasly Alpine 1:33.129 1.482 23 224.475
13 George Russell Mercedes 1:33.310 1.663 24 224.040
14 Nico Hülkenberg Haas 1:33.448 1.801 24 223.709
15 Esteban Ocon Alpine 1:33.516 1.869 22 223.546
16 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:33.699 2.052 22 223.110
17 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo 1:33.860 2.213 24 222.727
18 Kevin Magnussen Haas 1:33.975 2.328 23 222.454
19 Logan Sargeant Williams 1:34.212 2.565 27 221.895
20 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo 1:34.831 3.184 23 220.446