until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Formula 1

Verstappen still fastest at Suzuka but Ferrari closes in

by Ben Anderson
2 min read

Max Verstappen kept Red Bull on top in second practice for the 2023 Japanese Grand Prix, though Charles Leclerc close to halved Ferrari’s deficit from FP1.

Key moments:

> Verstappen keeps Red Bull on top
> Leclerc and Norris lead the chase
> Hamilton outside the top 10 again

Verstappen produced what Christian Horner termed “a statement of intent” by dominating FP1 by more than six tenths of a second, and Formula 1’s championship leader wasted little time in FP2, opting (unusually) to run the soft compound tyre immediately and going straight to the top of the timesheet with a 1m31.377s lap - around three tenths faster than he managed in the first session.

Verstappen’s second flying lap was 0.014s slower, which created some false hope Red Bull might be toppled in this session.

Once the others had finished messing about with the medium tyre and Pirelli’s experimental compound, both Lando Norris and Charles Leclerc beat Verstappen’s benchmark on the soft - Norris briefly going fastest with a 1m31.152s lap before Leclerc punched in a 1m31.008s effort to eclipse the McLaren.

Carlos Sainz, who joined Leclerc in using Ferrari’s revised floor for this session, also beat Verstappen’s early effort - but Verstappen wasn’t finished, utilising improved track conditions to break into the 1m30s on his third run and establishing a 0.320s advantage over the chasing pack.

George Russell’s Mercedes and Fernando Alonso’s Aston Martin rounded out the top six, just ahead of Alex Albon’s Williams and the second McLaren of Oscar Piastri.

Sergio Perez was again well off Verstappen’s pace in the other Red Bull, though it wasn’t clear if Perez was still running the older specification floor on his RB19. Perez was just over a second off Verstappen in this session, so at least a bit closer to the pace than he was in FP1.

Valtteri Bottas completed the top 10 for Alfa Romeo, making good use of Singapore upgrades that were expected to improve the car’s performance in the higher-speed corners around Suzuka.

Perez, Bottas, Lance Stroll, Esteban Ocon and Nico Hulkenberg all lapped within a tenth of each other - and ahead of Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton, whose struggles continued in FP2.

Hamilton was concerned he damaged his car’s floor with a run over the exit kerb at the second Degner early on, though Mercedes did not confirm any aero loss, and Hamilton lost time through the Esses and with a snap of oversteer exiting Spoon Curve on his best lap - finishing up 1.141s off Verstappen’s pace.

The session was curtailed a few minutes early when Pierre Gasly crashed his Alpine at the second Degner after snatching the right-front brake during the long runs.

Gasly admitted he “just locked up” before running wide through the gravel and breaking his car’s left-front suspension against the barrier.

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