The two wet free practice sessions on the return of the Japanese Grand Prix largely obscured the true grid order at Suzuka . However, while it was Mercedes who set the pace, with Russell leading Hamilton in FP2, there are plenty of signs to suggest that Max Verstappen is saving a lot for the dry track, and that he is the favorite to take a victory than , with a fast lap, would mathematically give him the 2022 title.
The story of F1 Friday in Japan
The fact that the two free practice sessions took place more or less normally was something unexpected, since a lot of rain had been forecast and the rain was falling 30 minutes before the first practice. But it has been filmed, although the activity on the track has been much less than usual for a Friday.
Fernando Alonso was the one who unexpectedly set the pace in the first hour. After the track dried out to some extent to pave the way for intermediate runs, the Spaniard completed the Suzuka course in 1m42.248s to move to the top of the table. Then, the worsening of the conditions in the last quarter of an hour left him there, so the two-time champion finished three tenths ahead of Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc. For his part, Verstappen was sixth and Sergio Pérez tenth, while Hamilton was left in a distant 13th position and Russell in 18th with only four laps completed.
As expected, the tricky track and its changing conditions surprised more than one driver. The biggest casualty was Mick Schumacher, who hydroplaned with FP1 already over and crashed into the wall, severely damaging his Haas F1 Team. The German, who is fighting for his future in F1, was not due to return to the track on Friday as a chassis change was necessary.
Those of the Silver Arrows took the first two positions in FP2, which had a special duration of 90 minutes because it was planned to test the 2023 Pirelli tires . However, as it was slick tires, that test was canceled and left the few who completed representative long-run stints with intermediates.
George Russell, the first to change the wet tires for the green ones in the second practice session, reduced his times to 1:41.935s, leading Lewis Hamilton by 0.235s. Verstappen was third, albeit 0.851s behind, while Pérez finished fourth.
After a late attempt to assess set-up adjustments, Kevin Magnussen was fifth ahead of Sainz , the better Ferrari. Leclerc , for his part, stayed in 11th position after a mistake at the hairpin on a lap out of the pits. The merit of the Monegasque is that he kept the Ferrari running to get back on track and the session passed without a red flag.
F1 Japanese GP 2022 FP2 times table (top 10)
|Carlos Sainz Jr.
How Russell ended up being fastest on Friday at F1’s 2022 Japanese GP
The Mercedes W13 has not been the best of the 2022 season and remains the first car from the team not to win a grand prix since 2011. Of its many flaws, a persistent headache has been the car’s problem in generating enough temperature on your front tires. That’s something you see in the dry, let alone on a cold, soggy track.
Although changing the geometry of the suspension to better control how the rubber presses against the tarmac could be a more durable solution, the temporary set-up adjustments made by the team between FP1 and FP2 were enough for Russell to shine. Obviously, the slippery conditions have contributed to some extent to the order being somewhat confusing. However, the Mercedes seem to be on a par with Red Bull and Ferrari.
Russell was also able to boast of setting the fastest time in FP2 thanks to his and the team’s good timing. Unlike Verstappen, who opted to use the same set of intermediates until the end, the Briton pitted for a new set of tires and quickly set two improved times. Then, conditions on a drying track seemed to hurt the times. As the surface turned from wet to greasy, limiting the amount of standing water the Intermediates could evacuate, times were no longer as competitive and Russell held onto the lead.
So while we didn’t see the usual FP2 switch to lower engine maps and more fuel, to slow down the pace and do the long run simulations, no one could match the Mercedes.
However, this not all. As Mercedes is one of only six teams not to have done a representative 90-minute race stint with any of their drivers, and as a dry qualifying is expected, their pace might not translate into a front-row position in the race. grill on saturday or even dominate on sunday.
Average long runs with intermediates on Friday at the 2022 F1 Japanese GP:
What the lessons of FP2 mean for the first race in Japan since 2019
Of the four teams that have been able to do something resembling a more or less normal race stint simulation, it seems that Sainz’s work has been the most competitive. His times averaged 1:45.57, by our calculations, to suggest he has a mighty one-second lead over Verstappen’s pace.
That difference could be exaggerated by the usual training questions regarding fuel loads and engine maps. The first is supported by the fact that the Spaniard only did a five-lap session, excluding the one in and out of the pits. Perez, by contrast, doubled down on that. Verstappen ran for 12 laps. And, as mentioned above, the Red Bulls chose to run on a single set of tyres, while Sainz was able to make use of some new intermediates to greatly contribute to his impressive pace.
With dry qualifying, the lightest RB18 to emerge from the summer break is expected to remain the benchmark. Especially on a track that demands heavy downforce, shreds tires and has notable top speed sectors in the 130R corner and on the main straight. All these elements seem to favor Red Bull and its Honda engine.
Also, although Suzuka is a classic and permanent circuit, it is narrow. After the streets of Marina Bay from the last test, another layout arrives that does not favor overtaking. Therefore, the qualifying pace predicted by the Red Bulls could pay off in the race if track position is secured. As long as Verstappen doesn’t suffer with the anti-stall , like a week ago…
As for what the sky has in store for us on Sunday, forecasts remain too fluid. Earlier in the week, a Spa-Francorchamps-style downpour was expected minutes after the checkered flag. Now, there is a greater suspicion that a shower could fall in the closing laps to wreak havoc in the final stint.
Looking at the big picture, however, the state of the championship, regardless of the result for Leclerc or Perez, a win and the bonus point for the fastest lap will guarantee Verstappen the crown with four races to go.