Verstappen and Red Bull return to the top in Japanese GP FP1


Max Verstappen and Red Bull returned to the top of the field in Friday's opening practice for this weekend's Japanese Grand Prix.

The championship leader set a blistering pace in FP1, clocking in 0.626s ahead of Ferrari's Carlos Sainz in an effort to erase Red Bull's one-off Singapore slump.

McLaren's Lando Norris was third quickest in the session, the Briton edging the second Ferrari of Charles Leclerc while AlphaTauri's Yuki Tsunoda rounded off the top five, much to the local crowd's delight

As if to ward off last week's bad spell, Verstappen was the first driver to head out on to the track and the Dutchman led the charge from the outset.

While Verstappen was on the hards, free practice was an opportunity for teams to sample Pirelli's test tyre compounds, with two sets of the latter handed out to each driver.

Behind Verstappen, Perez unsurprisingly slotted into second, confirming the bulls' resurgence, then came the McLaren pair of Norris and Piastri, with the Aussie receiving in Japan the full array of upgrades implemented on his teammate's car in Singapore.

But as everyone upped the pace a medium-shod Fernando Alonso popped up into third, with Haas' Nico Hulkenberg and Russell following suit.

Meanwhile, as the session reached its halfway mark, Verstappen, now on the soft rubber pressed on and continued to lower his own benchmark, the championship leader maintaining a healthy one second plus advantage over Perez.

The majority of the field had completed its test tyre running and began to focus on the medium and soft tyres compound.

After spending the first part of practice tweaking their set-ups, Sainz and Leclerc finally got going and immediately went second and third, but the Ferrari pair were still well adrift from Verstappen.

Behind the top three, Alonso, Williams' Alex Albon and Aston's Lance Stroll, the latter feeling fit and well, completed the top six. But contrary to last weekend, it wasn't a tight spread, with 1.344s separating those contenders.

Over at Mercedes, Russell and Hamilton continued to work diligently as they ran through the team's programmes, with neither driver seeking to break the sound barrier.


With ten minutes to go, a solid effort by local hero Yuki Tsunoda on the softs pushed the AlphaTauri charger up to fourth.

In the closing minutes of the session, McLaren opted to show its hand by mounting the soft tyre on its cars which propped Norris up to third, the Briton separating the two Ferraris.

First practice thus concluded with Verstappen and Red Bull returning to the front of the field, but Perez was sat down in P11.

Runner-up Sainz was the Scuderia's fastest contender, with Leclerc in fourth while Norris and Piastri lined up third and seventh respectively.

Behind Tsunoda in an excellent fifth, Alonso was fifth while Albon, Lawson and Stroll rounded off the top ten.

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