She’s there again Red Bull of Max Verstappenthere it stayed Ferrari to challenge her. And perhaps the distance – at least during the flying lap – is not as great as before. Friday’s free practice in Suzuka produces a world champion who is once again at ease with the car protagonist of the misstep in Singapore, best time in the first session (for Carlos Sainz) and in the second session with three tenths ahead of Leclerc. «The car was easy to drive – said the Dutchman – I had no problems, it was a strong day. We are quite close behind Ferrari and McLaren, but let’s try to focus on ourselves.” If performance remains at this level, it would mean that the impact of the new technical guidelines has not changed the values of the championship and that the Last week’s GP must be dismissed as an accident. The performance of Sergio Perez, ninth with the same car, remains a mystery.
On the Japanese circuit, the Red team has not won since 2004 with Michael Schumacherthe figure-eight circuit, composed of very fast corners and slower sections, is a total test to measure the recovery that took place between Monza and Singapore: it demands a lot from the tires, from the engine, from every element.
Ferrari started well, even the new car surface (the subject of a comparison between the two drivers in the first two sessions) seems to have provided more stability, the unknown is related to the race pace, which is quite difficult to evaluate precisely during the FP2 simulations. Charles overcame a blow by putting himself ahead of Norris (the McLaren driver is always excellent, fresh from second place in Singapore) but especially ahead of Sainz. It is an important answer at a difficult time for the Monegasque, looking for a suitable driving style to tame the SF-23 and its tendency to understeer. It needs confirmation, but it is still a signal.
Leclerc with a clear lap in qualifying he can fight for the front row of the grid and perhaps even for pole. We shall see. In the race the goal is the podium. Ferrari’s challenge is not with Red Bull (one step away from winning the constructors’ title), but with Mercedes, who are now just 24 points away from second place. “Let’s not overdo it with optimism – said Fred Vasseur – but we are off to a good start.” It didn’t shine Hamilton (14th) while Russell looked in better form in fifth, but it’s the usual Friday script. Because in the end, Lewis is the most concrete between the two, as evidenced by George’s serious mistake a few corners before the finish in Marina Bay.
The session ended a few seconds earlier due to Pierre Gasly’s accident: the driver was unhurt, but the Alpine mechanics hoped for a calmer day. Aston Martin continues to float in the middle area, Fernando Alonso sixth ahead of a now unsurprising Alex Albon in the Williams, who has the advantage over the others in being able to run with more unloaded wings.
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