Verstappen fastest before rain spoils Japanese GP practice

Published April 6, 2024
MCLAREN’S Oscar Piastri of Australia drives past cherry blossom trees during the second practice session of the Formula One Japanese Grand Prix at the Suzuka circuit on Friday.—AFP
MCLAREN’S Oscar Piastri of Australia drives past cherry blossom trees during the second practice session of the Formula One Japanese Grand Prix at the Suzuka circuit on Friday.—AFP

SUZUKA: Max Verstappen went fastest on Friday in the first practice for the Japanese Grand Prix, with the second session badly affected by rain.

Triple world champion Verstappen, who failed to finish the race in Australia a fortnight ago, edged Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez in dry conditions in the first session in Suzuka.

But it was a different story later in the day when only five drivers recorded a timed lap in on-off showers, with McLaren’s Oscar Piastri going quickest ahead of Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton.

Verstappen and Perez did not come out for the second practice.

They were among several drivers who stayed in the garage as the teams tried to preserve their tyres in the tricky conditions.

“In FP2 we couldn’t do anything, which was a shame as this means that we don’t know the long-run pace, but we can’t do anything about the weather,” said Verstappen.

“In general, it looks like everyone is a bit closer compared to last year and I don’t expect the same kind of gaps here at this track.”

Verstappen won the first two grands prix of the season but the Dutchman retired from a race for the first time in two years in Melbourne after a brake issue.

Normal service resumed in the first practice, in a session that was red-flagged for around 10 minutes after Williams driver Logan Sargeant crashed into a wall of tyres.

Verstappen clocked a fastest lap of 1min 30.056sec — 0.181sec quicker than Perez.

“There are a few things that we still want to look at tomorrow [Saturday] but overall I felt quite happy with what we had and the laps that we did,” said Verstappen.

Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, who won in Australia after returning from appendicitis surgery, was third-fastest at 1min 30.269sec.

George Russell was fourth-quickest followed by Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton, with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc coming home in sixth.

Hamilton, who has had a difficult start to the season, said it was “a great session” for Mercedes.

“It was the best session for us so far this year and the best the car has felt,” said the seven-time world champion.

“I felt very positive and excited heading into FP2 as this is a circuit that every driver loves to drive.

“It was a shame not to get much running in, therefore.”

The second session saw very little action until a late flurry of activity.

Australian Piastri ended up on top, clocking 1min 34.725sec to finish 0.501sec clear of Hamilton.

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was third ahead of RB pair Yuki Tsunoda and Daniel Ricciardo, but no other driver managed to record a timed lap.

“Not a lot going on in FP2 but I was able to get a couple of laps in at the end in tricky conditions,” said Piastri, who finished third at last year’s race.

“I think it’s been an OK day. It’s difficult to get a good reading on everybody’s pace.”

Sargeant did not take part in the second session after crashing earlier in the day.

The American came skidding off the track at a corner and spun across the gravel before slamming into a barrier midway through the session.

He walked away unhurt and his car was carried off by a crane.

Williams boss James Vowles said the damage to Sargeant’s car was “extensive”.

“He struggled to see where his position was on the track, so it fundamentally looks like he didn’t quite realise where he was,” said Vowles.

Published in Dawn, April 6th, 2024

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