World Champion Max Verstappen quickly cast aside his and Red Bull’s subdued Singapore weekend with an emphatic showing in opening practice for Formula 1’s Japanese Grand Prix.
Verstappen clocked a time of 1:31.647s around the figure-of-eight Suzuka circuit in a hot and overcast first 60-minute session on Friday lunchtime.
Verstappen’s lap, set on the Soft tyre, left him a comfortable 0.626s clear of Singapore race winner Carlos Sainz.
McLaren’s drivers set their best times during the closing stages of the session, with Lando Norris moving into third place, while Oscar Piastri leapt from the lower half of the pack into seventh spot.
Sainz’s Ferrari team-mate Charles Leclerc was fourth while home representative Yuki Tsunoda was a surprise fifth for AlphaTauri, as the only other drivers within a second of pacesetter Verstappen.
Fernando Alonso was sixth for Aston Martin while McLaren’s Lando Norris was sixth overall.
Several drivers allocated time to sampling Pirelli’s test tyre, a prototype of the revised C2 tyre – which at Suzuka equates to the Medium compound – for 2024.
Each driver has two sets of these prototype tyres to evaluate through the course of the two practice sessions.
Williams’ Alex Albon took eighth place while Liam Lawson reinforced AlphaTauri’s early speed by classifying in ninth position.
Lance Stroll returned to action after his violent qualifying crash in Singapore – which left him sidelined from the race – and rounded out the top 10 for Aston Martin.
Sergio Perez was 11th for Red Bull, while Mercedes pair George Russell and Lewis Hamilton were a low-key 13th and 16th respectively.
Neither Russell nor Hamilton ran the Soft tyre compound with their best times coming on the Medium rubber.
Friday’s second session is scheduled for 15:00 local time