F1 – Japanese GP – Qualifying
Konnichiwa, MiniFans! If last week we were returning to Singapore after a small break, this weekend it is Japan’s turn to once again host a Formula 1 race. Friday was drenched in rain but Saturday gave drivers a break, welcoming a dry qualifying session, albeit under a cloudy sky.
As per usual, the first couple of minutes of Q1 were mainly only craved by some of those needing the extra time to try and score a good lap, but desire to conserve tyres and wait for some track improvement divided this group. Mercedes left the pits with with medium tyres, while everyone else had chosen the softs, and would eventually need to take their drivers out with the red tyres as well. Ferrari had kept on working Leclerc’s car even when the time had started ticking away, but they soon got him out and he joined his teammate in the top 3.
After the big news of Gasly leaving Toro Rosso for Alpine in 2023, the Frenchman wasn’t having his best qualifying session, and apparent problems with his brakes meant he did not make the cut. However, his teammate, the local driver, was able to do so after a Q1 that split a few teams. The drivers that got eliminated in Q1 were Albon (P16), Gasly (P17), Magnussen (P18), Stroll (P19) and Latifi (P20).
The sun finally peeked through the clouds at the beginning of Q2, bringing out a smile in Ferrari, the first ones on track. They held onto the top two places until Verstappen came along, but the Red Bull driver could only improve their time by less than a tenth. The first go left a very clear impression of what’s been going on the whole weekend, with very tight lap times and tiny differences among drivers. However, Verstappen and both Ferraris were confident in their already set times and did not go out for a second run, saving a set of new softs.
With the improvement of the track, Leclerc dropped down to ninth, showing nerves in the Italian garage, but their strategy paid off and their first attempt was good enough to make it through in a very tight session that saw the margin of not making it to Q3 reduced down to three thousandths of a second. The eliminated drivers in Q2 were Ricciardo (P11), Bottas (P12), Tsunoda (P13), Zhou (P14) and Schumacher (P15).
Leclerc was the first one to set a time in Q3, kicking it off with Ferrari setting very fast sectors, at least until Verstappen poked his head in and displaced the red cars to sit on top in their first try. Alonso, after a great weekend so far, settled right behind the four candidates for pole position and six whole tenths free of both Mercedes. The scary moment came courtesy of Verstappen and Norris, as the British driver managed to avoid the Red Bull after the current world champion’s car snapped at the back. One waved apology later, the incident was archived to be reviewed after the race.
Vettel’s thank you message to Suzuka was a nice pastime in between stints. Leclerc didn’t start off in the best way possible, but his second sector was good enough to make the Italian team dream, exactly as Sainz’s did, but their efforts were in vain as their remained in second and third respectively. Pérez couldn’t give anything else and Verstappen, although not improving his own time either, had previously scored a lap time good enough to grant him pole position.
Formula 1’s return to Suzuka after two years of absence left behind a tight qualifying session in which four drivers could have easily snatched pole position and not been a surprising sight. Verstappen and both Ferraris made sure that the fight went down to the smallest margins possible, as just one hundredth split first and second place. Will the race mimic qualifying and grant us close racing? There’s only one way to figure it out.