Max Verstappen was fastest in both of Friday’s practice sessions as the Formula One grid took to the Suzuka Circuit for the first time this weekend.
The two-time World Champion was first out of the pitlane on Friday morning, with many of the early runners making the most of the two additional C2 compound tyres they have been given as part of a Pirelli test, sets which can’t be carried over into Saturday.
Lance Stroll, who missed the Singapore Grand Prix following his heavy qualifying crash, was on the team radio being unhappy with the rear-end of his Aston Martin, being joined in the pitlane by only Alexander Albon and Yuki Tsuonda, with everyone else out on track.
Red Bull was setting the early pace, mainly through Verstappen, however, his team-mate Sergio Perez slotted into second place to make it a Red Bull 1-2, before Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso split the pair.
The first incident of the session was caused by Williams’ Logan Sargeant who went off at the exit of the final chicane, down at turn 17. However, the American driver was able to continue.
Down at Denger 1, Oscar Piastri was lucky not to lose control of his McLaren after he clipped the inside kerb and went into a massive slide, which he caught and continued onwards.
Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu was the next driver to test the limits of the Suzuka Circuit after he went off at Spoon Curve, the track proving to not be as high on grip as some drivers expected.
With the checkered flag signalling the end of the session, Max Verstappen was fastest from Carlos Sainz (Ferrari), Lando Norris (McLaren), Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) and Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri).
A few hours later the action got underway again with FP2, with all but the two Red Bull drivers making their way onto the circuit.
Lewis Hamilton was concerned about his Mercedes after running across a kerb, coming onto the team radio and asking “Is my floor ok?” to which he was met with a calm, “We’ll take a look” from the pit wall.
Yuki Tsunoda had a moment down at the hairpin after he ran wide and managed to control the car again after a handful of oversteer.
Kevin Magnussen was lucky to not crash his Haas car into Carlos Sainz, with the Dane taking avoiding action to ensure there was no contact with the Ferrari. This came about after Sainz was going slow on the racing line at the first two corners.
Zhou Gunayu then had to take his car back into the pits after a hydraulic leak that was affecting his brakes. There were only ten minutes remaining on the clock at this point and he wouldn’t miss out on too much track time and got back out on track a short time later.
Then there was a big moment for the Williams’ of Logan Sargeant who ran straight across the kerb at Denger 2. The team needed to check the floor of his car as sparks were sent flying during the contact.
Pierre Gasly then brought running to a close after crashing heavily at Denger 2. The French driver missed his braking point into the corner, locked up and slid his way down the wall. The left-hand side of his Alpine car was badly damaged.
Max Verstappen topped the session, with Norris and Sainz making up the top three. Carlos Sainz and Mercedes’ George Russell were next on the leaderboard in fourth and fifth respectively.