Red Bull’s Verstappen fastest in first Japanese GP practice

Red Bull’s runaway Formula One championship leader Max Verstappen roared back from defeat in Singapore to set the fastest lap in the first practice for the Japanese Grand Prix on Friday.

The Dutch 25-year-old laid down an immediate marker as the first driver out of the pitlane, on the hard tyres, in the hour long opening session at Suzuka and stayed on top throughout.

Verstappen’s record run of 10 wins in a row, and Red Bull’s 15 successive victories, came to an end last Sunday when he finished only fifth under the floodlights at Marina Bay and Mexican team mate Sergio Perez was eighth.

Verstappen’s best time of 1:31.647 was 0.626 quicker than Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, the winner in Singapore.

McLaren’s Lando Norris was third fastest, 0.745 off the pace with a late switch to the soft tyres, with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc fourth and 0.927 slower than Verstappen.

« Max back to the front again so it was fun while it lasted, » d McLaren boss Zak Brown joked on Sky Sports television.

Perez, 151 points behind Verstappen after 15 of 22 races, was only 11th and 1.396 seconds slower than his team mate.

Red Bull are set to retain their constructors’ title in Japan on Sunday, needing to score only a point more than Mercedes.

Mercedes had George Russell 13th fastest and seven times world champion Lewis Hamilton 16th but, unlike those above them on the timesheets, they did not use the quicker soft tyres in the session.

Japan’s only driver Yuki Tsunoda was fifth for AlphaTauri ahead of his home race with Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso sixth and McLaren’s Oscar Piastri seventh.

Williams’ Alex Albon, AlphaTauri’s stand-in Liam Lawson and Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll completed the top 10 in an uneventful practice.

Drivers also tested Pirelli tyres for the 2024 season during the session.

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