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Formula 1

Another Williams crash - All that happened in FP1 at F1's Japanese GP

by Edd Straw
5 min read

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen topped the opening free practice session for the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka driving the upgraded RB20 in the second consecutive FP1 session interrupted by a red flag caused by a Williams driver crashing.

After Albon shunted heavily in the first session in Melbourne two weeks ago, Logan Sargeant hit the wall at Turn 7 at the halfway point in FP1 at Suzuka as a result of running wide and touching the grass at the exit of the left-hander on his first flying lap having switched to softs.

It is a crash Williams can ill-afford given it is light of parts after a troubled winter and the damage done in Australia, with Sargeant driving the repaired monocoque from the Albon crash.

“It’s the repaired one just because the workload to switch the cars back over would be far too much for the mechanics,” Sargeant had said on Thursday. “The chassis repair went better than expected. It should be perfectly normal as far as I’m aware.”

Fortunately, with Williams not expected to have a spare chassis until the Miami GP in May, the nose bore the brunt of the impact meaning that the damage is likely to be limited to bolt-on parts, but Sargeant’s apologetic tone over the radio shows he was well aware of the potential consequences.

Team-mate Albon ended the session an encouraging 12th, 1.887s off the pace.


As expected, Verstappen bounced back from his failure to win the Australian GP thanks to retiring with a brake problem, by hitting the top of the timesheets in the first part of the session despite Red Bull, along with Ferrari, opting to use hard tyres rather than mediums for its early FP1 work.

Verstappen posted a time of 1m31.463s to hit the top with 38 minutes remaining, a lap three-tenths quicker than McLaren’s Lando Norris at that stage. He then improved to a 1m30.056s after the red flag having switched to softs, which was enough to guarantee him top spot.

Perez backed him up with a lap 0.181s slower having also set his best time after the red flag as Red Bull made an encouraging start after introducing floor and sidepod inlet upgrades.


Given the McLaren-Mercedes MCL38 is at its best in high-speed corners and was best-of-the-rest behind Red Bull at Suzuka last season, the battle between it and Ferrari is expected to be one of the closest battles this year. Ferrari took first blood in that battle with Australian GP winner Carlos Sainz third-fastest, 0.213s slower than Red Bull and team-mate Charles Leclerc sixth.

McLaren ended up eighth and 10th with Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris just over a second off the pace. However, that wasn’t representative as both drivers had their soft-tyre runs interrupted by the red flag. Norris was on his first push lap on the new rubber at the time, posting what stood as the fastest time of all in the first sector when the red flag flew. Piastri was in the first sector when the red flag was thrown.

Neither team has major upgrades for this race, with McLaren having a small revision to its brake ducts for the reduced cooling demands at Suzuka and Ferrari running a new higher-downforce rear wing and minor rear suspension fairing upgrade, but it remains to be seen which will be the leading challenger to Red Bull. However, Ferrari’s early pace was promising.


Expectations for Mercedes were low heading to Suzuka given its struggles so far this season and the problems it had at this track last year. But Mercedes caused a surprise with George Russell and Lewis Hamilton ending the session fourth and fifth fastest.

Hamilton’s time, set just before the red flag, was 0.487s seconds off the pace with Russell cutting in ahead of him with a lap just 0.013s quicker than his team-mate's after the restart.

Mercedes communications director Bradley Lord, appearing in British broadcaster Sky Sports F1’s coverage of the session, described the car as “night and day better than last year”.

However, given the capricious nature of the Mercedes W15 and its tendency to lose performance unexpectedly, it’s too early to draw the conclusion that this marks the start of a revival for Mercedes – encouraging as its FP1 pace was.


Lance Stroll ran the revised Aston Martin, which features changes to the floor and engine-cover bodywork, in the session but his first run was disrupted by damage to the aero rake mounted on the back of the car.

He returned to the pits with damage to the lower part of the left side of the aero rake, leading to Aston Martin changing the whole rear wing that the rake was mounted to. Strol returned to the track and ended up 15th, two seconds off the pace.

However, team-mate Fernando Alonso showed encouraging pace and set the seventh-fastest time in the old-spec Aston Martin that he’s running to allow the team to make a back-to-back comparison. He was 0.543s off the pace and ahead of Piastri.


Red Bull junior Ayumu Iwasa made his Formula 1 weekend debut, taking over Daniel Ricciardo’s RB machine and setting the 16th fastest time.

The 22-year-old is competing in Japan’s Super Formula for Team Mugen this year after two years in Formula 2. He’s the first of the drivers to appear in 2024 to satisfy the regulation requiring that “on one occasion during the championship, for each car entered for the championship, each competitor must use a driver who has not participated in more than two championship races in their career”.

Iwasa didn’t complete his first flying lap until there were just over 20 minutes remaining, working his way down to a time of 1m33.808s on his initial set of medium tyres, which was 1.5s slower than team-mate Tsunoda’s pace on the first run.

Iwasa briefly got ahead of Tsunoda when he switched to softs, but ended up a respectable 0.873s slower than his team-mate. He ran the older spec floor in FP1 while Tsunoda had the new floor. Both RB drivers will have the new floor from FP2.

Tsunoda, meanwhile, continued his strong run of early-season form and was ninth-fastest, just under 1.2s off the pace. That put RB at the head of the battle of the teams in the second half of the pack, with Esteban Ocon putting Alpine second in that group with 11th in the upgraded A524 – a few thousandths ahead of Albon.

Haas expects to struggle at high-speed Suzuka, with Nico Hulkenberg 13th in FP1. That meant Sauber ended up slowest of that group with Valtteri Bottas in 14th, two seconds off the pace, and team-mate Zhou Guanyu, running the old-spec front wing, down in 18th.

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