It was a complicated Friday for Lewis Hamilton at Suzuka. After only setting the 14th fastest time in FP2 of the Japanese Grand Prix, more than a second behind leader Max Verstappen, British driver Lewis Hamilton had a difficult Friday in Suzuka at the wheel of his Mercedes.
In the meantime, it was business as usual and a return to the top of the timing sheets for Red Bull’s Max Verstappen who’s Red Bull RB19 was once again setting the pace, this time for the Grand Prix in Japan.
Red Bull drivers announce they’re back
Max Verstappen described a good start to the Japanese Grand Prix weekend for himself and his Red Bull team after setting the fastest time in the first two free practice sessions at Suzuka on Friday.
After a complicated weekend for Red Bull in Singapore, where Verstappen finished fifth and Sergio Perez eighth on Sunday, the Red Bull driver seems a little more at ease this weekend on the more conventional Suzuka circuit in Japan, the Dutchman having beaten the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc by three tenths in EL2 and the McLaren of Lando Norris by four tenths.
Verstappen: “…car was fun again”
When asked on Friday evening if this was a “return to normal” after Red Bull’s difficulties in Singapore, Verstappen replied: “Yes. It was really good today. From the very first lap, the car was fun to drive again.”
“We had a good day, with short and long stints. There’s a lot of degradation on this track, so I think it will be quite hard on the tyres in the race. But so far I think we’ve had a good start to the weekend.”
“It looks like everything is a bit tight behind me, between Ferrari, McLaren, they’re close, so we’ll have a look at that.”
“But I think at the end of the day we’re just focusing on ourselves and trying to optimise our performance. If we can do that, I’m convinced we’ll be fighting for pole.”
Perez equally satisfied
On the other side of the garage, Max Verstappen’s Mexican team-mate Sergio Perez also feels that the RB19’s balance is much better than in Singapore, despite the fact that he finished a distant ninth in Friday’s FP2.
“Things are looking a lot better than last weekend, which is positive,” said Sergio Perez after the first free practice of the weekend at Suzuka.
“I’m just looking forward to qualifying and doing well tomorrow, especially because the degradation seems to be quite high on this track in the race, especially with the hot temperatures we’re expecting. I think we’re going to be strong tomorrow [in qualifying] and Sunday as well.”
Hamilton disaster in practice
The seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton was less jubilant, however, as the British driver was unable to find the confidence he needed to go faster in Suzuka on Friday. His Mercedes struggled on the highly technical circuit in Japan where the slightest mistake can be paid for in vast swathes of lap time.
What’s more, the Mercedes driver had to contend with overheating tyres, which made the task even more difficult for him. Interestingly his team mate George Russell went fifth fastest on the Japanese circuit.
“It was a very difficult day for us. I had a lack of confidence in the car and that contributed to our difficulties,” said Lewis Hamilton on Friday evening in Suzuka.
“It was difficult to find the right balance and we didn’t manage to do that until the end of L2. The tyres were overheating and that left us pretty far off the top of the timing sheets.”
“We know we have a lot of work to do tonight to improve performance. However, I believe we can make improvements.”
“We’ve had similar Fridays this season and we’ll come back stronger on Saturday. We’ll see tomorrow if we’ve done it again.”
“We’ll try to give ourselves every chance of moving up the standings tonight,” concluded Hamilton, who finished third on the podium in Singapore on Sunday.
— Formula 1 (@F1) September 22, 2023
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