During the weekend from 22 to 24 September 2023, Formula 1 arrives at the Suzuka circuit for the Japanese Grand Prix. The Grand Prix represents the sixteenth round of the season, a week after the Singapore Grand Prix, the fifteenth race of the championship. For the fifth time in the season, the world championship involves one race taking place a week apart from the other. The world championship remains in Asia for the third overall round of the championship scheduled on this continent. This edition is attended by 222.000 spectators during the race weekend, the highest figure since the 2006 edition, characterized by a record attendance of 361.000 spectators. On this Grand Prix the Austrian team Red Bull Racing can become World Constructors' Champion for the sixth time in their history and the second in a row at this event. The Milton Keynes team have a lead of 308 points in the standings over second place, Mercedes. The title would come if the Austrian team scored at least one point more than Mercedes and at most 24 points less than third-placed Ferrari. Red Bull Racing can win the title as the manufacturer's advantage would be equal to the number of points still obtainable in the season, 309, but Mercedes would not be able to win if they finished tied due to having more victories in the season of Red Bull Racing against the German manufacturer. No team in the history of Formula 1 has ever won the championship with six races remaining.
The current record is held jointly by McLaren, in 1988, and by Ferrari, in 2004, with five races to go. In the most recent cycles the record belongs to Mercedes who won the title with four races to spare, in 2015, 2016, 2019 and 2020. In fact, this is the only topic of interest, related to this Japanese Grand Prix. The World Championship failed to tell a technical story between teams, or a challenge between drivers. So far, most of the teams have been working more on the modifications necessary to catch up with Red Bull Racing, even though they have basic plans related to the bodywork, which has been designed for different types of aerodynamic operation. For this Grand Prix, Pirelli, the sole tyre supplier, offers, in light of the technical characteristics of the circuit, the choice between C1, C2 and C3 compound tyres, the type of tires that characterizes the central range of the type of tires made available from the Italian company. Since the 2019 edition of the Grand Prix, the company has always established the same type of tires for this event. It is established for the fifth time this season, the first since the Dutch Grand Prix. Before the previous Singapore Grand Prix, Pirelli at the same time names the type of tires available for the following Qatar Grand Prix. In the first free practice session on Friday, the teams are given the opportunity to test a new version of the C2 compound. Regarding the characteristics of the Suzuka track and the consequent choice of tires to wear, Mario Isola, Pirelli Motorsport Director, outlines the situation:
"The Japanese Grand Prix takes place on one of the most fascinating and demanding tracks in Formula 1 history: Suzuka, with its unique figure of eight layout. This historic venue is a drivers' favourite, being absolutely thrilling to drive in today's ultra-competitive single-seaters. With its very significant lateral and vertical loads, Suzuka is as demanding on tyres as it is on drivers. These demands are equally distributed across all four wheels, with 10 right-handers and eight left-handers throughout the six-kilometre lap. As a result of these challenging characteristics, we bring some of the hardest tyres in the 2023 range to Japan: C1, C2, and C3. This is only nominally the same as last year's selection on account of the new C1 compound, which was introduced this season to slot in between the C2 and former C1 (now called C0). On Friday, all the teams will get the chance to test a new version of the C2 compound, with a view to homologating it for next season. This latest evolution should provide more grip than the current C2, and so fit in more coherently between the C1 and C3. For the first two free practice sessions, each driver will have two additional sets of tyres, compared to the usual 13 sets per weekend. This test is part of a development programme that was recently defined for 2024 and will continue with a new C4 compound to be tested on track during the Mexican Grand Prix weekend".
The australian driver Liam Lawson replaces Daniel Ricciardo also in this event and the Faenza-based team announce that he will replace the Australian driver also in the subsequent Grands Prix until the latter he does not recover from his injury. Lawson has already competed on the Suzuka circuit during the same year, in Super Formula, the category in which he takes part, with the best result being fourth place, before the last two rounds of the championship scheduled on the same track.
The Australian driver for McLaren, Oscar Piastri, and the American driver for Williams, Logan Sargeant, debuting in this championship, are racing on the Japanese circuit for the first time. Wednesday 20 September 2023, McLaren Formula 1 team is pleased to announce a multi-year contract extension with Oscar Piastri to the end of 2026, further extending the partnership and cementing his long-term future with the team. Oscar joined McLaren in late 2022 on a multi-year contract, making his debut for the team at the Abu Dhabi Young Driver Test. He has continually impressed, proving his talent with his first top-three race finish securing second place in the Sprint at the 2023 Belgian Grand Prix. Oscar has had a remarkable career to date, which includes successive championship wins in the 2019 Formula Renault Cup Championship, the 2020 FIA Formula 3 Championship and the 2021 FIA Formula 2 Championship. With Lando's extension announced in February 2022, this confirms the McLaren Formula 1 team line-up of Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri through until at least the end of 2025. The driver is very enthusiastic about having extended his adventure with the team:
"I am thrilled to be extending my partnership with McLaren for many years. I want to be fighting it out at the front of the grid with this team and I am excited by the vision and foundations that are already being laid to get us there. The welcome that I have received and the relationships that I have built make this feel like home already. The team's consistent commitment in me has made me feel incredibly valued and the desire from the team for me to be part of its long-term future made this an easy decision. To be wanted like that and for the team to show so much belief in me after just half a season, means a lot. Ever since the Abu Dhabi Young Driver Test last year, I feel a real part of all things papaya and my thanks go to everyone in and around the team, as well as all the fans. Stability is a huge advantage in this early part of my career and to have that with a brand as prestigious as McLaren gives me the opportunity to continue the work that we've started. We've enjoyed some good moments together in my rookie season, but I'm excited to work together with everyone at MTC over the coming years to create some great moments".
Regarding Piastri’s renewal with the McLaren team, Andrea Stella, Team Principal, considers his confirmation to be fantastic and identifies him as an asset:
"It's fantastic to confirm that Oscar has signed a multi-year extension with the team. Oscar is an asset to McLaren and constantly impresses with his performance, work ethic and attitude, so it was an easy decision for the team to make. He has already proved pivotal to the team, so it's brilliant to have his vote of confidence as we push to win championships again in the future. I look forward to seeing him develop with us as we continue this journey together".
Zak Brown, McLaren Racing’s CEO, adds:
"I'm delighted to be continuing our partnership with Oscar through to the end of 2026. He's an incredible talent and an asset to the team so it's fantastic to be committing to each other in the long term. Oscar is already proving what he can do out on track and has been instrumental in the turnaround we've had so far this season. He's fitted into the team brilliantly and is really valued by the whole McLaren Racing family. I'm excited to see how he continues to grow both on and off track".
On September 23, 2023, Scuderia AlphaTauri is pleased to announce its full driver line up for the 2024 season as Yuki Tsunoda and Daniel Ricciardo continue to race for the team. Current Japanese Super Formula title contender and Scuderia AlphaTauri driver, Liam Lawson will reprise his role as reserve driver for both Red Bull teams, focusing on testing, simulator sessions and development work, attending all the races full time. Said Yuki Tsunoda:
"I’m so happy to announce that I will be staying with Scuderia AlphaTauri for the 2024 Formula 1 season. I’m looking forward to continuing to fight and collaborate with the team and Daniel. Obviously, I’ll push as much as possible for the rest of the season and beyond, to progress as a driver. I’m grateful for Red Bull and Honda, for continuing to support and believe in me, and very happy and thankful to continue the partnership".
Daniel Ricciardo joined what was then Scuderia Toro Rosso in 2012, to earn a seat in 2014 at Red Bull Racing, where he scored numerous Podiums and won 8 Grand Prix including the prestigious Monaco GP. His personal attitude and racing experience will be precious assets in 2024. Confirming his commitment to the team, Daniel Ricciardo commented:
"I’m stoked to be driving with Yuki again next year and continuing the journey with Scuderia AlphaTauri. Following the progress we have already made and the plans for the future, it’s an exciting time for the Team. We are building and it is a great feeling. There is a lot of work to do, but we are heading in the right direction and there is a lot to look forward to. Bring on 2024".
The youngest driver on the grid in Suzuka this weekend, 21-year-old, Liam Lawson has been more than impressive in Japan’s Super Formula, currently lying second in the championship with one round remaining. He has already impressed in Formula 1 by scoring points after only two races completed with Scuderia AlphaTauri as a last-minute reserve for the injured Daniel Ricciardo and will provide valuable contribution to both teams in reserve for the 2024 season. Speaking of the upcoming Japanese Grand Prix, at Red Bull, Max Verstappen has positive memories of his experience in Japan and sets the maximum objective to be achieved in victory:
"Following the race in Singapore, the Team is carrying a lot of momentum into Japan. I’m looking forward to racing in Suzuka, it’s always super fun to drive as it has a lot of high-speed corners. I also have very fond memories from the track there, from winning my second Drivers’ Championship, scoring a great Team result finishing 1-2 and even looking back to 2014 where I drove during FP1 for the first time. I’m spending a few days in Tokyo ahead of the weekend which should be fun and also help with the jet lag. We need to get everything right this weekend and of course, the target is to win".
Sergio Perez, after the unfortunate and painful weekend in Singapore, hopes to return to form for Suzuka and is confident of obtaining a positive result:
"Singapore was an unfortunate weekend and a painful one, so I hope we are back on form for Suzuka and we can be stronger. Japan is a circuit we all love and I think the car will be back to its best, the problems we had in Singapore should hopefully not continue to affect us. Last year I had a fun drive in Japan in hard conditions, fighting with Charles all the way to the final lap and those are the races you love. The first sector is one of the best to drive all season, it’s tricky but great. We need to get back to the victory this weekend, that can be the only target for us, I am confident and I look forward to it".
At Mercedes, Toto Wolff focuses on the positive expectations that the previous weekend in Singapore brought and confidently outlines the objectives for the weekend in Suzuka:
"It was a thrilling Sunday night in Singapore. Although the result wasn't quite what we were hoping for, there are plenty of positives we can take away. We were bold and aggressive with our strategy calls. The pace of the car all weekend was strong. We executed well as a team and gave it a real shot for victory as the racers we are. It was a great drive to the podium from Lewis".
"He showed impressive pace throughout the race, especially the final stint. P3 was a deserved reward for his efforts. For George, he'd performed faultlessly all weekend. He was giving it absolutely everything in the search for victory. That's absolutely what we want to see. It was a small mistake on the final lap and that will make it even more painful for him. I know he will bounce back strongly. We have another race in just a few days' time. Japan is always a unique event with very passionate fans. The track is incredibly challenging, and the drivers love racing on it. The margins were so close in Singapore, so we'll be aiming for another competitive showing in Suzuka. We lost some ground in the Constructors' Championship to Ferrari at the last race. We are looking forwards not back, though. Our focus is on maximising the package we have and scoring as many points as possible. If we do so, I'm confident we can extend our advantage".
At Alpine, Esteban Ocon comments positively on the Suzuka track:
"I absolutely love Suzuka and, for me, it is one of the highlights of the season. This track has such a nice flow to it, and it is such a pleasure driving there. In the past, we've seen that overtaking is not always easy compared to other tracks, but the racing is always good. Us drivers always need to quickly find a rhythm around there, especially through the Sector 1 Esses. Once you've found that, the lap time will improve, and it becomes a really fun circuit to drive. I had a great result here last year with a strong fourth place and I can't wait to race in front of the passionate Japanese fans who always make it such an amazing experience to come here".
Pierre Gasly is confident about being able to achieve a good result in Suzuka, one of his favorite tracks:
"Suzuka is one of my favourite tracks on the calendar, so I really hope we can go there and have a great performance. It's a circuit all of us drivers love as it's fast, has some challenging corner combinations and usually provides good racing. Japan is a very special place for me from my Super Formula days as I spent a lot of time in Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya during my season back in 2017. I remember my first event at Suzuka and being completely blown away by the volume of support from the fans. It's incredible, so special and warming and every year we are there for Formula 1 it is the same. I love the support, I'm so thankful for it and I can't wait to experience it again this weekend where I aim to make it back-to-back points on track".
At Williams, Alex Albon is hopeful of being able to complete a good weekend in Japan:
"I love coming to Japan; Sukuza is one of my favourite tracks of the year and I love the food and culture of Japan, so it's always a good time. Suzuka should be a good track for us and will be better suited for our car compared to previous tracks like Singapore. Hopefully we can do a good job and have a good weekend".
At Ferrari, Frédéric Vasseur, Team Principal, is determined to continue the weekend in Japan with the same positive momentum as the last races:
"With Singapore behind us, we immediately focused on the Japanese Grand Prix, one of the most enthralling races on the calendar for teams and drivers. The Suzuka track is very different to Monza and Marina Bay and it will give us the opportunity to see how the SF-23 performs in high speed corners with a medium-low aero set-up. We will tackle this weekend with the same approach we have adopted at the past few races, where we made further progress in terms of how we operate at the track. We are expecting to once again bring home plenty of points, as we continue to fight for second place in the Constructors’ Championship".
Carlos Sainz Jr., after celebrating the great result of the weekend in Singapore, is confident that he will be able to maximize the potential of the car to obtain a good result here in Japan too:
"We celebrated that evening as everyone in the team deserved it, but then we immediately started thinking about this race. Suzuka is one of my favourite circuits, even if I think this won’t be an easy weekend for us. This track has high speed corners and you run with medium-low downforce, which has usually shown up the limitations of the SF-23. Also, it can be windy here, which our car does not like, as it’s handling is very sensitive to variations. However, in recent races, we have learned a lot on how to maximise the potential of our package and I’m confident we will be able to do that here too. Then we can look at the time sheets and know where we are in terms of being competitive. First and foremost it’s the people, there are so many fans and they do everything they can to make you feel their support, the cities are beautiful and the food is really amazing".
Charles Leclerc, motivated and spirited after the victory that his team managed to achieve last weekend, is determined to work on every single detail to obtain as many points as possible:
"I think it was a tonic for the whole team. We have worked so hard over these past few months, constantly getting better at understanding how to manage our car, which as we know is rather complicated to set up. Of course the interests of Ferrari always come first and so it was clear from after qualifying that I would have to be ready to help Carlos. The fact we managed to get this win motivates and pushes me even more to do well, because I want to stand on the top step of the podium as soon as possible too. We will probably have a clearer idea after free practice. Because in Singapore, we went well, but the team that’s dominating the season had a bad weekend, while our other rivals were very close as usual. Our approach here does not change: we will work on every detail with the aim of scoring as many points as possible".
At McLaren, Lando Norris, after the splendid result obtained in Singapore, is enthusiastic about racing in Japan and positive about taking home good points again this weekend:
"P2 in Singapore. What a fantastic start to this double header. The team have worked really hard to continue improving the car and the upgrades felt good on track. I'm excited to take the MCL60 and the Stealth Mode livery onwards to Japan and see what we can do there. The Japanese GP is always one I look forward to. The atmosphere is incredible, and the fans always go all out with their creativity, which I love to see. The Suzuka Circuit can be challenging, but the layout is what makes it really enjoyable. Let's bring home the points".
Oscar Piastri, excited to race for the first time in Japan, is hopeful of being able to finish in the points again after the recovery made in Singapore:
"I'm really excited for my first Grand Prix in Japan, and it'll be great to explore the culture. I did learn some Japanese at school, so I'm curious to see how much of it I'll remember. Of course, I look forward to seeing our fans cheering the team on from the grandstands. A great atmosphere always adds to the excitement of a race weekend. The circuit looks very cool. Suzuka is definitely a track everyone wants to drive at, so I'm looking forward to experiencing that for the first time this weekend. My car will carry the Stealth Mode livery again, as well as some new parts, which is exciting. I had good pace in Singapore, made up 10 positions, so I'm hoping to improve on that performance and finish in the points again".
Andrea Stella, McLaren's Team Principal, motivated by the warm welcome received from the fans and thanks to the positive result obtained in Singapore, ensures that he will do his utmost to obtain other important points for the team:
"We close the Asian double header in Suzuka for the Japanese Grand Prix this weekend. The atmosphere the fans bring in Japan is unique as they are so passionate. We are always given a wonderful welcome, and it's a special feeling that you get coming here. The circuit is also one the drivers look forward to each year. Off the back of a positive result for us in Singapore, we are now focused on seeing what these latest upgrades can do in Japan across both cars. The conditions in Suzuka can make for a trickier race and so we are keeping a close eye on the weather as we approach the weekend. However, we know that we have made vast improvements since the start of the season, so we will keep looking ahead and do our best to secure another good haul of points for the team".
On Friday September 22, 2023, everyone at Suzuka is ready for the first day of practice. The circuit can be tricky: it is an old school one, where the skills of the driver are really important and for the two rookies, Logan Sargeant and Oscar Piastri, it is the first time racing here and this can be quite challenging. The weather in Suzuka his warmer than usual, with an air temperature of 28 °C and a track temperature of 37 °C with rain expected. At 11:30 a.m. local time the first free practice session gets underway with Verstappen heading out first on track with hard tyre compound, followed by his teammate and Hulkemberg’s Haas. McLaren and Alfa Romeo’s pair are out on medium compound while the rest of the grid is using the new prototype medium compound given by Pirelli. Since the beginning of the session Max Verstappen leads the timesheet, 1.2 seconds faster than Sergio Perez. It does pass much time before the McLaren set the second and third fastest time, showing a great pace here in Japan, a circuit with fast corner. Halfway through the session and traffic became an issue and a lot of drivers, such as Leclerc, Ocon and Verstappen complains about it on the radio. While everyone changes for soft tyres, the two Mercedes remain on the medium compound and that explains the less competitive time set by both drivers. Ferrari seem competitive on soft tyres, with Leclerc now third and Sainz second, far behind Max Verstappen’s time. By the end of the session, most of the drivers are switching back on hard and medium tyres to try some long run gathering data for Sunday’s race. At the end of the session, Max Verstappen is the fastest, ahead of Sainz, Norris and Leclerc. Home driver Yuki Tsunoda sets the fifth fastest time; the rest of the grid is: Fernando Alonso, Oscar Piastri, Alexander Albon, Liam Lawson, Lance Stroll, Sergio Perez, Pierre Gasly, George Russell, Nico Hulkenberg, Esteban Ocon, Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas, Kevin Magnussen, Logan Sargeant, Zhou Guanyu.
At 3:00 p.m. local time the second session of free practice gets underway. Russel and Hamilton lead the way out on the prototype medium compound while most of the other drivers are out on this year’s medium tyre except for the Alpha Tauri’s drivers who are running on hard tyre. It is already Verstappen the fastest driver out here, topping the timesheet in 1'31"377, only 1.644s quicker than his teammate. 10 minutes into the practice and the two McLarens are fliyng, setting the second and third fastest time: it is incredible how the British team worked during the year to increase the car’s performance and now battle for the third place in the constructure championship. Mercedes is the first team to switch in soft tyres, but they are only sixth and seventh on the timesheet. Hamilton is the next to set a lap time on the softs and he loses time to his teammate in the middle sector. It's the first sector that is costing the Mercedes the most though, as Hamilton goes sixth overall, two tenths behind Russell. Now almost all the drivers are racing on soft compound starting some race simulation runs. Now Leclerc goes top, with a 1'31"008, a tenth and a half ahead of Norris. It does not take long for Verstappen to set the fastest time again, 0.320s clear of Leclerc. Mercedes are the one who struggle the most here in Japan with Hamilton only able to finish 14th overall. Almost at the end of the session, with less than five minutes to go, Gasly crashes his Alpine in the wall at Degner 2 causing a red flag and the suspension of the session. All he did was lock up as he followed his teammate through. That lock up sent him skating straight on into the gravel, he hit the looming barriers and his front wing just caught on the first bit of barrier, which pulled the rest of his car in, breaking the suspension. At the end, it is Verstappen leading the way ahead of Leclerc and Norris.
It was another solid hour for Red Bull, plenty of laps completed, with Verstappen looking the class act in the field and Perez with slightly more to do overnight. This is the rest of the grid: Carlos Sainz, George Russell, Fernando Alonso, Alexander Albon, Oscar Piastri, Sergio Perez, Valtteri Bottas, Lance Stroll, Esteban Ocon, Nico Hulkenberg, Lewis Hamilton, Liam Lawson, Zhou Guanyu, Kevin Magnussen, Yuki Tsunoda, Pierre Gasly, Logan Sargeant. Max Verstappen is back at the top after a disastrous weekend in Singapore. At the end of the first two Free Practice sessions, the Dutch Red Bull Racing driver, talking about the work done, said:
"There's a lot of degradation on this track so it will be quite tough on tyres during the race, but so far, we’ve had a good start to the weekend. We've had a strong day on the short and long runs. There's a lot of degradation on this track so it will be quite tough on tyres during the race, but so far, we’ve had a good start to the weekend. The competition looks tight but for now we'll focus on ourselves and try to optimise our performance, if we do that, I'm confident that we can fight for pole tomorrow".
And Sergio Perez adds:
"It was a very interesting Friday. This morning we went a bit off balance, but we now have a very good understanding of the direction we need to take. Things are certainly looking much better than they did last weekend, which is positive. The tyre degradation seems to be quite high at this circuit, especially with the hot temperatures we are expecting. I look forward to qualifying; I believe we are going to be strong tomorrow and on Sunday".
Lando Norris is overall satisfied with the car’s performance:
"A positive day. I think our car is feeling reasonable. The balance is a bit all-over-the-place in these very low grip conditions, but I think it's a problem the whole grid has. I'm finding small improvements here and there. The speed is relatively good and if we can tidy some things up, I think we can have a good day tomorrow".
Oscar Piastri, at his first race in Suzuka, states:
"A decent first day in Japan. I really enjoyed the circuit; it was a lot of fun. There are still some things I want to work on, but it's been a good first day, and as a team, I think it's been a positive Friday. I'm looking forward to tomorrow. Hopefully, we can improve a few things, but it's been a good start".
Andrea Stella, McLaren’s Team Principal, can be happy for what the team achieved in the last race and that is a positive signal, meaning that the updates brought to the car are working really well:
"We've had a clean, productive first day at Suzuka. The team was able to complete our programme with no major issues for either car. The track presents some interesting challenges for set-up. The tyre degradation is high, but the grip level is low, so, there's a few things we need to look into tonight, but overall the MCL60 seems to be behaving well. We'll take a good look tonight at the information we acquired today, with a view to being as well-prepared as we can be for the rest of the weekend".
Charles Leclerc is quite satisfied at the end of the day as his performance seems better than what expected here in Japan:
"We seem to be slightly closer to our competitors than expected, so it was quite a positive day overall. On my side, we tried out a few different things on the car to make me a bit more comfortable, which was good. I’m looking forward to confirming that feeling tomorrow".
Carlos Sainz Jr. has shown a great pace and a great confidence with the car, he comes from a great weekend in Singapore, securing his second victory with the prancing horse and the first non Red Bull victory of this year:
"This weekend the gaps to our closest rivals seem very close, therefore back to where we were in previous races, with Red Bull very strong again. On my side, we’re still fine tuning the car a lot and today we tested many different set-ups to try to find the best compromise for this track. We have a lot of data to look into and tonight we'll need to decide what settings to run tomorrow, trying to put the car in the right performance window. We have a couple of interesting days ahead of us".
George Russell, fifth overall but struggling to keep up the pace on race simulation at the end of the day states:
"It feels great to back driving around Suzuka. It's such an incredible circuit. It's been a slightly strange Friday for us. The track seemed to have very low grip, particularly in FP1, so the car is sliding around quite a lot. That doesn't give you the best feeling in the world as a driver. Particularly when you've got plenty of high-speed corners to tackle. The race on Sunday will also be interesting as tyre degradation looks very high. In terms of the relative order, the Red Bull looks to have returned to its normal pace at the front. They have been exceptionally quick today. I think we are likely half-a-step behind the Ferraris and the McLaren of Lando Norris at present. We've got a bit of work to do tonight to close that gap. We are typically strong at finding those performance gains so we can be optimistic of improving for tomorrow".
Lewis Hamilton defines the two session of free practice challenging:
"It was a very challenging day for us out there. I had a lack of confidence in the car and that contributed to our struggles. It was difficult to find the right balance and we didn't manage to get on top of it by the end of FP2. The tyres were overheating and that left us quite far off the top of the timing sheets. We know we've got a lot of work to do tonight to pick up the performance. I do believe we can make improvements though. We have had similar Friday's this season and come back stronger on Saturday. We will see tomorrow if we have done so again. We will be putting in the effort this evening to give us every chance of getting ourselves higher up the order".
Andrew Shovlin, Mercedes’ Trackside Engineering Director, states:
"We've certainly been on the back foot today. Both FP1 and FP2 proved tricky sessions for us. Both drivers reported struggling with an overall lack of grip and the balance of the car. We made some changes ahead of the second session and gained some useful learnings from that. However, we know we must make improvements overnight. We are clearly not strong enough in the faster corners, with the first sector proving a particular weakness for us. That's where the majority of our work will be focused this evening. George did find some improvement on the single lap in FP2, but we are facing the same challenges on both our qualifying pace and the long run. In a sense that is encouraging. If we can fix one, the other should improve too. However, we are not underestimating the work we've got to do to be stronger over the rest of the weekend".
Esteban Ocon is confident about the improvement made by the team and thinks the car can be quite competitive here:
"It's always a real pleasure to come back to Suzuka and drive around this iconic circuit; it's probably my favourite of the year. It was a busy day in the car today and we have learned a lot out on track in both sessions. We also saw some good improvements from Free Practice 1 to Free Practice 2 and we put in some competitive lap times in the afternoon session. It only takes three or four tenths to gain a few positions, so it's extremely close amongst a number of cars. We have some work to do overnight and hopefully we can be in a good position tomorrow to have another strong Qualifying".
Pierre Gasly says:
"At this stage of the race weekend, I would say we have some work to do and I'm sure there's more to come from us. Unfortunately, our day ended with a small off at Turn 9 right at the end of Free Practice 2. I just lost the front slightly and I could not correct it in time and that meant we slid through the gravel and into the barrier. We will learn from it and move on. In terms of today's performance, there are a lot of things we can assess both on low and high fuel. The tyres are quite challenging and it's something we'll certainly aim to get on top of ready for the rest of the weekend. It's an extremely tight pack with one or two tenths of a second splitting a lot of cars, so extracting every detail tomorrow will count".
Alex Albon declares that the car struggles during the long run but feels fine on the qualifying lap:
"It was okay today. As we expected, the low fuel pace feels good, it's the long run pace that we are struggling with, so we need to figure that out as the deg is high. We're going to go back to the drawing board a little bit; we might need to compromise our qualifying car a little bit for our race car, but let's see".
Fernando Alonso is struggling in this second part of the season:
"It's tricky to read where we are after today, but the car felt good to drive around here. Formula One cars are made for this type of circuit and it is always great to drive at Suzuka. We need to look at the data tonight to see what we can do ahead of the rest of the weekend. Our aim is to make Q3 in qualifying tomorrow, continuing our streak of appearances, but it looks tight with how close the field is".
Simone Berra, Pirelli Chief Engineer declares:
"There was a lot going on today in Suzuka, on a track that is always particularly challenging for the tyres. In fact, apart from the usual job list, we ran a test with a new version of one compound for 2024 and it was important to be able to work with the teams to try and gather as much data as possible. Therefore, we thank them and the drivers who collaborated fully in adding this test to their usual work programme. Over 1300 kilometres was completed on this prototype C2 and from the initial feedback it seems it is not delivering the potential for improvement in terms of the grip we wanted to achieve, but obviously, now all this information will have to be analysed carefully before reaching a final decision. As for the trio of compounds we have here in Suzuka, initial indications are that the level of wear is very good, while the thermal degradation is rather high, albeit in line with our expectations given the surface temperature, which has always been around the 40 °C mark and the characteristics of the track. Therefore, if going into this event the difference between a one and a two stop strategy was very tight, today the balance is definitely swinging in favour of the latter".
It’s time for the final free practice session in Suzuka ahead of later qualifying. There isn’t much action in the first 10 minutes as only Leclerc and Sainz hit the track. Shortly after they are joined by the rest of the grid, most of the drivers with soft tyres. Verstappen sets the pace and tops the timesheets with a 1'30"960 and then improving by closing with 1'30"267. Following him Lando Norris who keeps a gap of 0.240s from the Dutch driver. Oscar Piastri also proves to have a good peace being the third fastest, at 0.048s from his teammate. Perez scores the fourth best time ahead of Leclerc's (1'31"022) and Sainz’s (1'31"137) Ferraris, closing the session fifth and sixth respectively. The Mercedes duo follows, with Lewis Hamilton at +0.892s from the leader and George Russell at +1.238s. Fernando Alonso is ninth, ahead of the Alfa Romeos of Zhou Guanyu and Valtteri Bottas. Kevin Magnussen is in 12th, followed by the Alpine of Esteban Ocon, Yuki Tsunoda and teammate Nico Hulkenberg. Closes Logan Sargeant, Liam Lawson, Alex Albon, Lance Stroll and Pierre Gasly. At 3:00 p.m. local time, the traffic light in pit lane goes green indicating the start of Q1. The first ones to go out are Stroll and Lawson, while the other drivers wait to join the track. When the session gets into the thick, Verstappen scores the best time of 1'29"878., ahead of Norris, Piastri and the other RedBull of Perez. The action is stopped by a red flag due to Sargeant losing control, sliding through the gravel and crashing into the barriers. The driver is fine but the car looks very damaged. After removing the Williams, the session resumes and all the drivers proceed to score their lap time, in particular the Ferraris that have not arrived in time on the line before the red flag and also Hulkenberg, Gasly and Albon who have had their times deleted over track limits.
Shortly thereafter comes a communication that Leclerc, Zhou and Bottas will be examined by the stewards regarding maximum lap time. The clock is ticking and when the session ends we still find Verstappen in first place. Follows Norris, Leclerc, Lawson and Piastri. Sainz is sixth, then Perez, Tsunoda, Russell and Hamilton. Have made the cut also Albon, the Alpine pair Gasly and Ocon in 11th and 12th, Alonso and Magnussen. Bottas, Stroll, Hulkenberg and Zhou are all knocked out. After a few minutes Q2 begins with Max Verstappen scoring the best time, 1'29"964, once again followed by the two McLarens this time with Piastri in front of Norris. The trio stays in the pits to preserve their tyres while the other drivers try to improve their time in order to pass the cut. Leclerc improves his time with a 1'29"940, placing himself above Verstappen followed by Perez, Hamilton and Sainz. Piastri then drops to sixth position, ahead of Tsunoda, Russell and Norris, with Alonso closing the top 10. Lawson, Gasly, Albon, Ocon and Magnussen remains in the drop zone. The final stage of the qualifying is about to start. Almost photocopied from the previous sessions Verstappen scores the best time, 1'29"012, with Piastri and Norris following. Perez is fourth, then Hamilton and Tsunoda. Russell, Alonso and the Ferraris decide to go for just one run. Verstappen still improves his lap time and takes pole position with a 1'28"877. The McLarens fail to improve but still Piastri and Norris gain the second and third place respectively. Leclerc manages to place his SF-23 in fourth position, while the teammate Sainz is in sixth, with Perez between the two. Hamilton, Russell, Tsunoda and Alonso close the top-10 grid positions for Sunday’s race. Poleman Max Verstappen is satisfied with today’s performance. The Dutch driver, after the unfortunate Singapore Grand Prix, is proving that no technical directive issued by the FIA has really slowed down his Red Bull Racing, and that he is in better shape than ever.
"The car was on the rails and really well balanced, I could really push it to the limit. I fully sent it today. When the car is good it makes the track feel even more special, it really bought a big smile to my face. I only had three sets of new tyres so had to be careful with how I used them. Looking ahead to tomorrow, degradation will be high so we need to look after our tyres. It won't be straightforward that's for sure. The aim is to win the Constructors Championship this weekend, especially on Honda's home turf".
Sergio Perez on the other side has had a tricky qualifying:
"I had quite a scrappy qualifying and we have struggled a bit with the balance of the car over the weekend. Ultimately, losing our second set of tyres in Q2 and going into Q3 with a single set really put us on the back foot. We thought we didn't have the margin, so ultimately it meant that we missed out".
"Today wasn't ideal, but we gave it our very best and I really believe that we can still have a strong race tomorrow. McLaren have a strong race pace, so I think it will be a good battle with them tomorrow. Finally, Max has also been on really good form and we are looking forward to the race day tomorrow; hopefully we can come home with the Championship and finish in Pl and P2 tomorrow".
Christian Horner is excited about Verstappen’s performance and believes Perez has still some work to do:
"We witnessed something very special today. Max was in a different league. He had 3 sets of tyres. Hist first lap in Ql was quick. Q2, on scrubs, was also quick and then he had two new tyres in Q3 which turned in that incredible performance. I encourage you to look at the replay on the final lap and focus on turns 5, 6 and then that high speed section. It really was quite outstanding and you have to take your hat off to him. Checo drove well. Starting in 5th means he will have a little more work to do, but he has good race pace, a strong car, he can overtake well here, so that should set him up for a good race".
Lewis Hamilton is very pleased with the work done to bring a better car to qualifying, despite the start of the weekend has not been the best:
"We did some great work overnight and the changes we made felt good in FP3. The car has generally felt nice to drive today. That was a relief as yesterday was a bad day. We typically have at least one suboptimal day each weekend, so Friday was likely that. I felt much more confident with the car in FP3, and I was giving it everything in Qualifying. The first sector was the major difference though. We had a seven tenths deficit through it and it's mostly to do with the lack of rear-end grip we have. I was happy with my laps, even the runs on the used tyre. A track like this is one of the most challenging to drive anywhere in the world. It's amazing, even when the car is a little bit difficult. My final lap was enjoyable, but the cars ahead were just too quick compared to us. Let's hope for a better race tomorrow".
George Russell says he expects a very difficult race tomorrow given the car's performance:
"Today was a fair representation of how we perform on circuit that have similar characteristics to Suzuka. There's a large range of corners where we have plenty of high-speed and some very low speed turns too. Our car isn't the strongest across the full range of corners, so we have been struggling a little more here, particularly in sector one. We saw last week in Singapore that if we can find the sweet spot of the car on tracks requiring high downforce then we can fight at the front. That is not the case here. Tomorrow's race I expect to be challenging. Our race pace will likely be similar to our single lap pace. The gaps may close up a little but not substantially. We do have the option to try some different strategy options, having two hard tyres in our allocation. McLaren and Ferrari may not have the same freedom. However, I only expect it to only be a small advantage".
Andrew Shovlin, Mercedes’ Trackside Engineering Director, comments on the changes made in the car and the possible strategies for tomorrow race:
"We made several changes overnight, designed to improve the performance of the car through the first sector. That was where we were particularly weak yesterday. We did find some gains but ultimately, our performance today can mainly be attributed to the corner speed range we see here at Suzuka. Over the course of the year, we've done a good job of adding performance in the lower speed corners".
"However here, and in particular that first sector, you need a lot of downforce in a certain ride height range. The W14 isn't the strongest car in that area and that helps explain our deficit today. Our nearest competitors in the championship are Ferrari. We will have an eye on them strategically tomorrow as they line up ahead of us, and hopefully we can be in a race with them. We came here thinking that tyre degradation would be high. That looked to be the case on Friday and even earlier today in FP3. Our second set of Hard tyres means that we can look at strategies and stints that they possible cannot. Hopefully we can exploit that. We will ultimately find out in that first stint how the degradation is looking and its impact on the race”.
Charles Leclerc is pleased with his lap and believes that they can engage a fight against McLaren tomorrow:
"I’m happy with my lap, because it was the maximum we could have done today. We lost the most in sector 1, so we will look into that and try to understand what we can work on to improve. With the warm temperatures here this year, the risk of overheating is higher than usual, which means that tyre management and strategy will be key tomorrow. Red Bull have been very fast all weekend and McLaren seem to have a similar race pace as we do, so it will be important to get the start right".
And the teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. on the other side has had a tricky qualifying trying different setups:
"It was a difficult qualifying today. We knew before coming here that this track would expose our weakness a bit more and, with its high speed characteristics and long corners, we knew it was never going to be easy. I’ve tried many different things and set-ups since yesterday, with the aim of putting the car in a better place, but it clearly didn’t work. I didn’t do a good lap in Q3 either, so we’ll start P6 tomorrow. We’ll fight to get some good points tomorrow and we’ll be ready to grab any opportunities".
Frédéric Vasseur, Ferrari’s Team Principal, comments on the qualifying and McLaren’s lead:
"Today’s result is not too bad, but our session started on the back foot in Q1 as we wasted a set of Softs because of the red flag triggered by Sargeant. It meant both our drivers had just one new set of tyres each for Q3 and so they had to give it their best shot on just one run and Charles managed to get within eight hundredths of the front row. It’s been clear from the start of the weekend that, apart from Red Bull, McLaren also has excellent pace, but ours was not bad on Friday and in qualifying, with lower temperatures than in the morning free practice, we were in better shape, even if it's generally much hotter than usual this year in Suzuka. We are starting ahead of our closest rivals in the fight for second place in the Constructors’ championship and we must make the most of our grid positions. So we will be looking for a clean start in order to run a strategy that allows us to look after our tyres. We continue to bring updates to our car, as we want to fight all the way to the very end".
It is a great day for McLaren, which took second place in qualifying with Oscar Piastri, and third with Lando Norris. The British team has worked hard to return to the top of the standings, and the results are starting to show. Oscar Piastri is really happy of the result of the team:
"The first lap in Q3 was pretty solid. I was quite happy with it. On the last chicane, I could have done a better job, but it was a good lap. On the second lap, my first sector was good and the next two sectors not so good, so happy to end it in P2. It's been a really good weekend for the team so far, we've got upgrades on the cars and they're quick here. We thought we might have a decent chance but still had to make it happen. So, happy to be second and for the team to be second and third. Very, very happy".
Lando Norris, as his teammate, shows his contentment:
"It's been a very good day for us as a team getting P2 and P3. It was a great job by Oscar and, as usual, by Max, but a good day for us. I was pretty happy with my laps. It's tricky, it's not an easy circuit to put everything together always, but it's so quick around here, the smallest mistake can make a big amount of lap time. I'm happy. It's been a good day, and we have good positions for tomorrow".
Andrea Stella, McLaren’s Team Principal, also comments:
"P2 and P3 is a great day for McLaren, so we are delighted by this result. It shows the progress of the car on a track that rewards overall car performance. Well done again to everyone at McLaren for making sure we have the material available for both our drivers; thanks to this we have two drivers up there today. It was a tricky session, it is easy to make little mistakes here and there, so well done to Oscar and Lando for maximising the package. We still have more than a half a second deficit to Verstappen, so we need to keep our feet on the ground as it gives us the measure of how much work we still have to do. We now focus on tomorrow, and hopefully, we can capitalise on a good qualifying".
Alex Albon believes he couldn’t deliver more than he actually did during qualifying. Tyre management will be the key for the race:
"If this track was ten degrees cooler, I think we would have been in Q3. But it's been a tough weekend and we've been on the backfoot, so to come out P13 I think is the most we could get out of qualifying. Coming into this weekend, we expected to be a bit further up but, considering how Friday went and how fine the margins are out there, it's a good achievement and I was happy with my Quali lap. There's massive deg, the tarmac is very rough and we have the heat, so it's going to be a long tricky race tomorrow. The key will be tyre management and control from everyone. It's very tight out there".
Fernando Alonso does not hide his doubts about the performance of the car in the last few races, but he is still happy to have finished in the top-10:
"It was difficult for us to find any more pace today. I extracted the maximum from my laps and I'm happy to keep my run of Q3 appearances going. From track to track, the performance levels keep changing - on paper, we knew it would be challenging today. It will be an interesting race but we are optimistic of scoring good points tomorrow. Usually, we are better in the race so let's see what we can do".
Esteban Ocon is not very satisfied, as the car has failed to make the leap in quality they hoped for. The Alpine driver is very focused for tomorrow hoping the team will be able to solve the problems:
"Unfortunately, we were not quite good enough to make it into Q3 today with some very tight margins between many cars. If anything, we did not quite make the step in performance that we had hoped for between yesterday and today, which made things tricky for us in Qualifying. That said, we are very much focused on tomorrow's race when it counts for points and when tyre allocation and strategy will come into play, which, we aim to play into our advantage. We will work hard overnight to see our options on strategy and look to make our way through the field into the points".
Team mate Pierre Gasly also believes that hard work needs to be done to be able to deliver a better performance than the others:
"That was probably our maximum result today in twelfth, even if it was so close amongst so many drivers out there today. I think we did a good job to recover from a challenging Friday and find some improvements on car set-up. It's such tight margins, though, and we're less than 0.050secs from Q3, which was a similar story last weekend in Singapore. We've been twelfth at the last couple of races and managed to come away with some good results, so it's certainly all to play for tomorrow. We need to keep working hard as a team and find some extra performance to get ourselves back into the top ten at future events. Tomorrow could be an interesting race with strategy and tyre degradation. We will see what we can do and the aim is come away with another strong result".
Julian Rouse, Alpine’s Interim Sporting Director, remarks what the drivers have said:
"It was a very tight and competitive qualifying and we were unable to progress through to Q3, with Esteban and Pierre both out in Q2. For tomorrow, we will be starting from the middle of the grid and the target for us is to give both drivers the best chance to climb their way up through the pack and into the points. It's been an interesting weekend so far on tyre choice and strategy and tomorrow will be no different with various strategic options on the table. We will be putting a lot of emphasis on analysing our choices and hopefully we can use our available tyre allocation to our advantage. It will be a long race for everyone and the goal is to come away with both cars in the points".
Mario Isola, Pirelli Motorsport Director, comments how the tyres have performed in today’s qualifying:
"Congratulations to Max Verstappen, who with today's performance secures the record for the most pole positions of the season for the second time in his career: we will have a special award for him in Abu Dhabi! On the technical front, today all the teams prepared meticulously for qualifying, looking for the best way to manage the Softs which, at one of the most probing tracks from a tyre perspective, were delivering their peak performance on the first timed lap. Now looking ahead to tomorrow's race, we feel that a two-stop will clearly be the most popular option, especially as temperatures should be the same as today. In fact, it will be interesting to see what combinations of compounds will be chosen by the strategists, given that all three of them have shown themselves capable of playing a part. The Hard is probably the favourite compound, with eight drivers having saved the two sets of C1 supplied, while the other twelve have one new set. Furthermore, the Soft, which obviously has shown the greatest signs of thermal degradation, could be useful for the first stint for those looking to make up places at the start, or also towards the end of the race, when with less fuel on board, a driver could try and exploit the performance difference compared to those who might possibly be running a slower and more used compound".
Everything is set for the start for the Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday, September 24, 2023. Verstappen is back on pole, Sargeant will start from the pit lane and is handed a 10-second time penalty, as the Williams built up what the stewards determined to be a new car, and more than the two permitted per race, due to his Q1 crash. The supplier Pirelli predictes at least a two-stop strategy to be used, also because of the high temperatures experienced over the weekend. The front-runners and the majority of the field will start on medium tyres, while Tsunoda, Alonso, Lawson, Bottas, Stroll, Hulkenberg and Zhou opted for softs. Lights out and Verstappen immediately is under attack from Piastri on the inside and Norris on the outside into Turn 1, but he manages to keep his advantage. Perez jinks to the left to avoid Sainz, makes contact with Hamilton and sends him onto the grass. Ocon, Zhou, Bottas and Albon pit due to some damage, after a crash involving all of them, at the end of the lap, with Sargeant also at the box to serve his time penalty, while the Safety Car is on track to allow marshals to retrieve debris. Perez pits on lap 3 for a new front wing and is subsequently noted for a Safety Car infringement, which turns into a five-second penalty.
Safety Car goes in at the end of lap 4 and Verstappen is again the leader of the race, ahead of Norris, Piastri, Leclerc, Sainz Jr., Alonso, Hamilton and Russell, while Lawson and Tsunoda are in the final points-paying positions. Sargeant runs into the back of Bottas under braking for the hairpin and is given another five-second penalty from the stewards. Bottas is forced to retire. The Mercedes drivers are battling, with Russell getting ahead with a move into the chicane and Hamilton fighting back around the outside of Turn 1. Perez locks up and tips Magnussen into a spin at the hairpin. The Mexican driver says over the radio and pits for a second time with another five-second penalty.
"I have front wing damage again".
Piastri pits on lap 14 for hards, while a Virtual Safety Car is out for the debris made by Perez’ crash. He retires from the race, while Verstappen pits on lap 17 for mediums; Norris is temporary ther leader, while Russell experiences another close call with Hamilton at Spoon, where he is forced onto the run-off. He says:
"Who do we want to fight here? Each other or the others?"
Norris pitted a lap later than Verstappen and emerges behind team mate Piastri. Now the order is: Verstappen, Russell, Piastri, Norris, Leclerc, Sainz, Hamilton, Ocon, Alonso and Tsunoda. Alonso complains on radio about Aston Martin’s strategy:
"You’ve thrown me to the lions by stopping that early".
While Stroll boxes to retire his car. Norris is told that Russell can opt for a one-stop strategy, while the Mercedes’ Briton pits on lap 25 for hards and emerges in ninth. Verstappen hass now a lead of more than 10 seconds ahead of Piastri and Norris. McLaren swap the positions along the start/finish straight on lap 27, while Sargeant and Albon are the latest drivers to pit their cars and retire. On lap 35, Leclerc and Hamilton take on hard tyres, while Piastri pits for fresh rubber one lap later. Norris responds by pitting on lap 37, with Verstappen making his final stop on lap 38 and Sainz continuing on his medium tyres and Russell getting into the podium positions. Sainz pits on lap 39 and emerges seventh. Red Bull send Perez back on track to complete a lap and then serve the time penalties he was given earlier in the race. Russell continues to drop down the order, with Piastri and Leclerc getting past around the outside of the first corner. Russell starts to hold Hamilton up, and Sainz rapidly closes in, so Mercedes decides to swap their two cars into Turn 1 on lap 49. Russell asks if Hamilton can provide DRS to aid his defence against Sainz, but the Spaniard manages to pass, joking that:
"They’re using my trick against me”
After his tactics in Singapore.Verstappen crosses the finish line almost 20 seconds ahead of Norris, with Piastri 17 seconds further back. Behind them there are Leclerc, Hamilton, Sainz and Russell, Alonso is eighth, and Ocon and Gasly, after swapping places on the final lap, are ninth and ten Lawson and Tsunoda are 11th and 12th respectively, with Zhou, Hulkenberg and Magnussen in the last places. The five drivers retired are Albon and Sargeant, Stroll due to a rear wing problem, Perez and Bottas. Red Bull starts the celebrations in the Suzuka pit lane, as the points of Verstappen’s victory are enough to earn the team their sixth constructors’ championship. Verstappen has recorded his 13th win in 16 races:
"What an incredible weekend! It's been a massive Team effort, there are a lot of people involved in getting us to where we are today. You only really see very few people here at track, there are lots of people working tirelessly at the factory to make sure we are always performing at our highest. What we are showing this year is pure dominance, we can all be extremely proud. It was an amazing feeling to see the Team celebrating in the garage on the track TVs during my in-lap. We're definitely enjoying it but we won't take anything for granted".
Perez had a difficult race. He hit Hamilton down to Turn 1 at the start and pitted for a new front wing; then, he got a penalty for passing a car into the pit lane under the VSC, damaged another front wing and retired. Later, he rejoined the race in order to serve his penalties:
"It would have been nice to clinch the Championship in a different way but it has been an incredible year and I am so happy for the Team today. My race ended up not being straightforward at all; we had a poor start and everything went downhill from there unfortunately. The collisions caused too much damage so we brought the car in to assess. After fixing the car we then had a penalty to serve, which we did, and then brought the car in. Despite this, it has been a really great day for the whole team and to finally get that title is really special. I am proud of each and every single one of the team; they have done a really tremendous job".
Christian Horner, Red Bull’s Team Principal, is satisfied with the anticipated first place in the Constructors’ Championship:
"Only a Red Bull driver can win it now so there will be more celebrations to come in what can only be described as a monumental season in the team’s history! I have been saying it all year, but really, this kind of season would be impossible without the hard work that goes on behind the scenes from all the different departments both back at Milton Keynes and here at track. From the crazy hours that they work through to the relentless pursuit for better, it is a true Team effort and one to be immensely proud of. So that is 6 for us and an amazing moment for the Team. We will take tonight to celebrate and regroup tomorrow as we look towards Qatar and a possible driver Championship. Only a Red Bull driver can win it now so there will be more celebrations to come in what can only be described as a monumental season in the team’s history! Ichiban Oracle Red Bull Racing".
Norris managed to get the second place:
"Another amazing day for us. A P2 and a P3, the team did an amazing job and I'm very proud of the steps forward we're making every weekend. We're getting there. The pace was extremely strong today. We're not close to Max but we're not miles away either, so it was a very good day and I'm very happy. Congratulations to Oscar, his first podium in Formula 1, our first double podium together. A good moment for us".
Piastri got the last podium spot in what have been a very good day for McLaren:
"This feels pretty special, and I'll remember it for a long, long time. I can't thank the team enough for giving me this opportunity. Not many people get to have an F1 podium, and I've managed it in my first season, so thank you very much team. It wasn't my best race ever, but it was enough to get a trophy. Our pace was strong, and I think in the second half of the race I got more into a rhythm. I'm super-happy and very excited to try and get some more".
Andrea Stella, McLaren’s Team Principal, thanks the work of the team for what they have achieved:
"This week in Japan we've reached an important milestone in our journey at McLaren. For the first time this season, we finished with both cars on the podium. It's also the first podium for Oscar in Formula 1. That's a phenomenal achievement in his rookie season. We're delighted for him and so pleased as a team that we've been able to make it possible. The remarkable job done by the whole team trackside and factory side is what has made the difference; I want to thank all of the team once more. We look forward to the remainder of the season with optimism. It will be tough to repeat this kind of result, but we'll give it our best shot and hope we can take that final step in performance".
Ferrari didn’t have the pace today to take the fight to McLaren for the podium. Leclerc is not completely happy with his fourth place:
"It was a good race and, even though I am not completely happy with a P4, we brought home the best possible result today as McLaren were strong and we just didn’t have the pace to fight them harder. I had a fun battle with George (Russell), who did a great job in managing his tyres, especially the rears, which made it challenging to pass him. I took the opportunity to pass him in turn 1 when I saw a gap and it worked out well. We improved our understanding of this car and what we’ve learned will be useful in the future. It will be interesting to see how our competitors progress in the upcoming races".
Carlos Sainz Jr. thinks that they had enough pace instead:
"I think today we had better pace than the result suggests. We had a very good start and we were quick straight away. During the first two stints I managed my tyres well and had good pace, but we got undercut by Lewis (Hamilton) after the second stop and that compromised my race. I tried to extend my stint to have better tyres at the end and gave everything to close the gap quickly. Unfortunately, the race was a couple of laps too short for me today and we had to settle for sixth. As always, we will analyse the whole weekend when we are back home to see if we could have done something differently, but on the positive side I think the pace was there today. We will regroup and recharge our batteries before heading off to Qatar".
Frédéric Vasseur, Ferrari’s Team Principal, is not satisfied at all buti s sure they can try to give all their best at the next races:
"First of all, congratulations to Red Bull for winning the Constructors’ title. They have done a great job this season. As for our race, I think we did the most we could have done today, making up another four points on Mercedes. At a track we knew would be difficult for our car, we always had our situation under control: Charles did well to manage his tyres, while after Carlos was undercut by Lewis (Hamilton), we decided to extend his stint on the Mediums, hoping to get the benefit towards the end. It's very close between ourselves, Mercedes and McLaren and the order can change depending on the track, as we saw in Singapore. Obviously, we can’t be happy with a fourth and a sixth place but, having gained some ground on our closest rivals, we will stay focussed and prepare to give our very best at the upcoming races".
Hamilton had damage on the opening lap after being pushed onto the grass by Perez and then he managed to geta head of Sainz with a good teamwork:
"I'm exhausted after that one! Ferrari brought an upgrade this weekend and they were just that little bit quicker than us here this weekend. It was a hell of a fight. I was really trying to hold on. We did manage to get ahead of Sainz which was great teamwork and good work from the guys in the pit stop and the strategy group".
"That was the maximum we could have achieved today. We know how important the battle for second in the Constructors' Championship is. I know how hard everyone at Brackley and Brixworth is working to achieve that. Minimising our points loss to Ferrari today was critical. There is still a long way to go until the end of the season".
Russell managed his tyres well enough to think a one-stop was possible; he wanted Hamilton to stay behind and play the team game to keep Sainz Jr. at bay, but the team ordered him to let his teammate through:
"We will take the positives from today. The one-stop strategy didn't seem to be the optimal one at the start of the day, but we made it work better than expected. Ultimately though, we just didn't have the pace this weekend to challenge those ahead. I'm glad we tried something different, but the end result was a fair representation of where our speed was. I think we achieved the maximum we could today. There was plenty of hard but fair racing today. In the beginning, I felt like I had good pace so was trying to make progress. In the closing stages, we were pushing but ultimately, I don't think anything we could have done would have changed the result. That's all good and it's all part of motorsport. It's been a challenging weekend for us here at Suzuka, overall. We will try to understand why that was and come back stronger for the next race in Qatar".
Andrew Shovlin, Mercedes’ Trackside Engineering Director, talks about the too high tyre degradation the car suffered from:
"We realised early on that we were not going to be able to challenge those further ahead for the podium. Our race today therefore ultimately turned into minimising our points loss to Ferrari. We split our strategies to give us the best opportunity to do this. Being able to get one car in between the Ferraris was useful damage limitation, given they both started ahead of us. At the end of the race, the odds of George holding back Sainz were relatively small because his one-stop strategy left the Ferrari with a sizeable tyre advantage. The reason that we committed to that strategy though was that we had very little to lose. He had no threat behind Sainz; it was a difficult strategy to pull off and he did a good job. Ultimately though, the tyre degradation was too high to make it work. Given this, we had to protect Lewis from losing the position to Sainz, as he was the more likely car to finish ahead, and therefore gave the instruction to invert the cars on track".
Alonso was forced to pit very early for a set of hards and, after complaining about the team’s strategy, came home eighth:
"It was a good race today: a mega start moved us up to sixth and the car felt good despite a lack of performance yesterday. Having started on the Softs, we pitted a little earlier than those around us and we struggled a bit once we switched to the Hard tyre. On the second set of Hards, we were quite competitive, so we were able to push and keep the Alpines behind at the end. Everyone is working flat out at the track and at the AMRTC, so we will keep pushing and look forward to Qatar".
Mike Krack, Aston Martin’s Team Principal, thinks they achieved what they could:
"Realistically, with the performance we had this weekend, we achieved the maximum possible result with Fernando this afternoon - there wasn't much more he could have done out there. He brought home some useful points for us. Lance also raced well - he made a good start, passed some cars and was on course for a top-10 finish when we noticed an issue with his rear wing. We chose to make a precautionary stop and had to retire his car. He deserved more from today. Now it's time to refocus ahead of the next race in Qatar".
Ocon had to pit at the end of the first lap thanks to being involved in those start line collisions. That worked out for him though as he climbed up the order in a longer middle stint.
"First of all it is great to have both cars back in the points. I think the team did well to optimise a challenging strategy today and we performed well, in general, on track. We had a tricky start with the racing incident on lap one, which could have easily put an end to our race, but we were able to recover well, manage the tyres, have some good pit stops, and end our day with some points. It was good teamwork in an attempt to grab more points as a team and, in the end, we probably maximised what we had today. We have many things to learn and to discuss and we aim to come back stronger in Qatar in two weeks' time".
Pierre Gasly passed many cars and got into the points area, but during the final stages couldn’t get close to Alonso, so the team swapped him and Ocon:
"Firstly, we've made it back-to-back points from the double header after going from twelfth on the grid into the points. From my side, I felt it was a very positive race with strong stints on both the Medium and Hard tyres to put ourselves into points scoring contention. We seemed competitive, closely matched with Fernando [Alonso] ahead, and closing him down might have been possible. As a team, we have some things to review to see what we can do better for next time. In the end, it's a double points finish for the team and that's the most important thing".
Bruno Famin, Alpine Interim Team Principal, concludes:
"It's been a positive Sunday effort from the team today with both cars in the points and it was good to put behind a slightly out-of-position Qualifying. It was an interesting race for strategy with many different plans across the field. Towards the end of the race we looked to capitalise on our tyre advantage and pace from Pierre by targeting eighth place. The opportunity was a close one and we decided to swap positions on track with a view for maximising the team result by giving Pierre the chance to chase eighth place. In the end, we ran out of laps and pace and we made the decision to swap the drivers back. Making these calls is never easy, however, all decisions are taken with the best interest of the team first and foremost. It's been a busy two weeks - points on the board and certainly encouraging signs across two different circuits and conditions - so credit to the entire team for delivering upgrades and slick execution towards these results. We all need to keep pushing for more".
Albon was forced to do an immediate pit stop for an early inchident, but the damage was too severe and he retired:
"No car is strong enough to survive those kinds of crashes. A bad start kind of triggered it, so we need to work on that, but then we were in the wrong position at the wrong time and I got squeezed. I had damage from lap one and it was pretty much game over so it's a shame. We tried to push on and see if the race would unfold and see what would happen as this race is a bit of a battle of attrition, but ultimately we needed to retire the car".
Mario Isola, Pirelli Motorsport Director, analyzes the race and the strategie put into place by the teams:
"First and foremost, I want to congratulate Red Bull for their achievement in taking their sixth Constructors' title as well as ensuring that only Max or Sergio can now take the Drivers' crown. The team led by Christian Horner is making its mark on the current Formula 1 era, beating all the records and this amazing result is well deserved. The Suzuka track is one of the toughest on tyres and this year we saw higher temperatures than usual which increased the demands on them. This afternoon, everything went as we had expected and all three available compounds were used, thus creating a situation where we saw several different strategies between the teams and drivers. After studying the data from free practice, we reckoned that a two-stop strategy was the quickest and that was confirmed. Those who tried something different, Russell for example, had to give best in the closing stages to their two-stopping rivals. Compared to Friday, we saw that the Medium was the most used, even if the difference in terms of degradation when compared to the Soft, also today, was not that big. Clearly the C2 offered greater flexibility in terms of management and that's why the majority of drivers opted to start with it".
The next stop is now Lusail for the Qatar Grand Prix, which will take place from October 6-8, 2023. After Red Bull Racing won the Constructors' World Championship in the East, in the Middle East Max Verstappen will have the opportunity to become World Champion for the third time in the Sprint Race. It is certainly not a good way to end a virtually non-existent fight for victory, but unfortunately the current technical regulations wanted by Liberty Media, as well as rather questionable formats, such as the Sprint Race, have heavily influenced the outcome of this boring World Championship.