Photo by Kym Illman/Getty Images
Recapping the qualifying session that was at Suzuka.
Last week’s Singapore Grand Prix gave Formula 1 fans everything they have waited for all season long. Struggles all weekend for Red Bull opened the door for a first-time winner this season, and Carlos Sainz Jr. barged through with a brilliant drive, holding off Lando Norris and the Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and George Russell over the closing laps for his first victory of the season.
A week later finds Red Bull strung once again, as Max Verstappen secured pole position and has a very good chance at getting back on the top step of the podium.
However, Verstappen was just one of the winners from qualifying Saturday at Suzuka. Here are the qualifying results, as well as the other winners and losers from the day:
How we line-up for Sunday at Suzuka! ✨#JapaneseGP #F1 pic.twitter.com/FExn43jw4T.— Formula 1 (@F1) September 23, 2023
Given some of the practice sessions this week — including the third and final practice which saw Oscar Piastri in P2 followed with teammate Lando Norris right behind him in P3 — there were expectations that the Japanese Grand Prix would be another strong circuit for McLaren.
Those expectations came much closer to reality on Sunday, as both Piastri and Norris found themselves in the top three after qualifying. Norris will start third, right behind pole-sitter Verstappen, while Piastri will roll off the line second, for the best start of his F1 career.
“It’s been a very good day for us as a team getting P2 and P3. It was a great job by Oscar and, as usual, by Max, but a good day for us. I was pretty happy with my laps,” said Norris in the team’s post-qualifying report. “It’s tricky, it’s not an easy circuit to put everything together always, but it’s so quick around here, the smallest mistake can make a big amount of lap time. I’m happy. It’s been a good day, and we have good positions for tomorrow.”
“P2 and P3 is a great day for McLaren, so we are delighted by this result. It shows the progress of the car on a track that rewards overall car performance,” said McLaren Team Principal Andrea Stella. “Well done again to everyone at McLaren for making sure we have the material available for both our drivers. Thanks to this we have two drivers up there today.”
As for Piastri, McLaren’s social media team had a little fun with the result, his best-ever qualifying session in F1, by posting this photograph from his younger days;
See you on the front row, @RedBullRacing.
#JapaneseGP @OscarPiastri pic.twitter.com/E9bhRq8JKY.— McLaren (@McLarenF1) September 23, 2023
“It’s been a really good weekend for the team so far, we’ve got upgrades on the cars and they’re quick here,” said the rookie driver. “We thought we might have a decent chance but still had to make it happen. So, happy to be second and for the team to be second and third. Very, very happy.”
Still, the gap to Verstappen is considerable, and the team has some work to do on Sunday.
“We still have more than a half a second deficit to Verstappen, so we need to keep our feet on the ground as it gives us the measure of how much work we still have to do,” added Stella. “We now focus on tomorrow, and hopefully, we can capitalise on a good qualifying.”
Loser: Logan Sargeant
The news that AlphaTauri had settled on a driver lineup for the 2024 season left one vacant seat on the grid for next year, the spot currently occupied by Logan Sargeant at Williams.
Saturday’s qualifying session is the latest example yet why the team has yet to commit to the American rookie driver for next season.
Sargeant crashed out of Q1, putting his car in the wall as his first push lap came to a close, cutting his day short:
A big shunt for Logan Sargeant at the start of Q1
#JapaneseGP #F1 pic.twitter.com/q48OeFq6eW.— Formula 1 (@F1) September 23, 2023
After qualifying, Sargeant did his best to put on a brave face, and explain what happened.
“It’s been a good day until the incident. It was going well, and we had the car in a good window. I’ve just been struggling with rear overheating in the last sector. I lost the rear on exit; maybe a bit too aggressive on power with the tailwind as well,” said the rookie driver.
“The grass creeps up on you quickly as it’s coming back towards you. Unfortunately, once I touched the grass there was nothing I could do,” he added. “It’s disappointing and not what I wanted.”
Still, a race await, and hopefully Sargeant can make the most of Sunday.
“I know the team have a big job on their hands to repair my car for tomorrow and I really appreciate all their hard work and effort,” said Sargeant.
“I’ll put this behind me and focus on the race tomorrow.”
What a weekend this is shaping up to be for Yuki Tsunoda.
One of the biggest storylines in all of F1 heading into the Japanese Grand Prix was the driver lineup at AlphaTauri for the 2024 season. With three drivers — Tsunoda, Daniel Ricciardo, and Liam Lawson — vying for two spots, someone was going to be the odd man out.
That will be Lawson. Despite impressive performances in relief of an injured Ricciardo, the team announced ahead of qualifying that Tsunoda and Ricciardo would be their drivers for next season, with Lawson serving as a reserve for both Red Bull and AlphaTauri.
Hours later, with qualifying in the books, the decision seemed wise. Lawson just missed out on Q3 and will start the Grand Prix in 11th, putting himself in position to score points in his second-straight race. As for Tsunoda, he did find a spot in Q3, and will start ninth on Sunday, his best starting position since Monaco back in May.
“It’s incredibly special to get through to Q3 at your home Grand Prix. It was the first time in front of the Japanese fans, and the amount of support I felt in my final runs was great. I’ve never felt that kind of support from spectators,” said Tsunoda in the team’s post-qualifying report. “A big thank you to them, but an even bigger thanks to my team. It wasn’t easy because we struggled in Free Practice on Friday, but the team did an amazing job of finding improvements.”
As for Sunday, Tsunoda is looking forward to the race, and putting in a good performance in front of his home fans.
“The car was great and really fun to drive, so I’m looking forward to tomorrow. I haven’t raced with the new package in Singapore, but Liam did a good job last weekend and performed nicely, so I’m not worried about the race. I’ll go out and enjoy tomorrow with all the fans.”
Losers: Aston Martin
Photo by David Mareuil/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
At the start of the year, Aston Martin had their eyes set on podium finishes and double-points races.
As they look ahead to the Japanese Grand Prix after a difficult qualifying session, they are just hoping for points to come somehow in the race.
Fernando Alonso managed to extend his streak of Q3 appearances, but will start tenth on Sunday. Teammate Lance Stroll saw his Q1 run impacted by a red flag and managed just a 17th place result.
According to Team Principal Mike Krack, however, that is probably where they belong in the big picture.
“A tough session today,” admitted Krack after qualifying. “Both drivers did a good job – but we have to be honest with ourselves: we did not have enough performance to qualify higher.”
However, Krack believes the team might have a shot at a result tomorrow, thanks to how they have handled tyres so far this week. Heading into the race, Alonso is one of a handful of drivers with two fresh sets of hard tyres at his disposal, which could make a big difference during the race.
“Tyre degradation is likely to play a key role in this race. We have kept one eye on our tyre allocation throughout practice – and we feel we are in good shape for tomorrow,” said Krack.
“The Japanese Grand Prix is always a tough race, but we will give it everything we’ve got and aim to score points tomorrow.”
Another big storyline heading into Suzuka? The emerging battle for second in the Constructors’ Championship. Thanks to the win last week from Sainz, Ferrari closed the gap in that battle with Mercedes.
When the lights go out tomorrow, they will hold the advantage in that battle as well.
Sainz and teammate Charles Leclerc will both start ahead of the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Russell. Sainz is set to start fourth, with Leclerc right behind him in sixth.
As for Mercedes, they’ll occupy the fourth row themselves, with Hamilton starting seventh, and Russell eighth.
However, the Tifosi might feel some lumps in their throats when hearing from Leclerc following qualifying. “I’m happy with my lap, because it was the maximum we could have done today. We lost the most in sector 1, so we will look into that and try to understand what we can work on to improve,” said Leclerc. “With the warm temperatures here this year, the risk of overheating is higher than usual, which means that tyre management and strategy will be key tomorrow. Red Bull have been very fast all weekend and McLaren seem to have a similar race pace as we do, so it will be important to get the start right.”
Tyre wear and strategy at Ferrari? The texts and DMs I receive during the race tomorrow might be epic.
The story of Haas this season has often been a tale of two days. Their one-lap pace has been strong, particularly from Nico Hülkenberg, but things go away from them quickly on Sunday due to race pace and tyre degradation.
If that holds Sunday might be really tough for them, given how Saturday went.
Hülkenberg failed to advance to Q2, with one of his lap times deleted for exceeding track limits. He is set to start 17th on Sunday. Teammate Kevin Magnussen did advance, but with just one fresh set of soft tyres available the team held him until the end of the session, hoping for a little magic.
No magic was found, and he will start Sunday in 15th. Something that the driver knows, given their race results this season, does not bode well.
“I’m happy that we got the best out of it. P15, we want to be better than that, but we knew coming into this weekend it was going to be one of the worst tracks for us, and we know our car is stronger in qualifying than it is in the race. Being P15, you know what’s coming tomorrow, most likely,” said Magnussen in the team’s post-qualifying report. “I feel I’ve made some improvements in terms of how I drive this car and I feel like I’m getting more out of it, so at least that work has paid off.”
Haas Team Principal Guenther Steiner was equally blunt in his assessment.
“It was as expected. We knew this was a track that doesn’t suit us, and I think we did the best we could. In the end, we need to be realistic at the moment about what’s possible and what is not,” said Steiner. “Hopefully tomorrow we can get the tires to work a little bit longer, which is always our weak point, and then there is still opportunity there. So as always, we keep on pushing.”
Winner: Max Verstappen
That one down week must have really gotten to him.
Verstappen was once again the dominant force on the track, putting his RB19 into pole position in convincing fashion. The gap from him to Piastri? Over half a second:
Your final order from qualifying! ✨#JapaneseGP #F1 pic.twitter.com/uDmILkxepm.— Formula 1 (@F1) September 23, 2023
To put that into perspective consider this visual from @JustF1Car on X, one of the best F1 accounts there is to follow:
Japanese Grand Prix Qualifying gaps visualised
Who impressed you the most?
pic.twitter.com/4LadKM0nf7.— justf1car (@justf1car) September 23, 2023
As for Verstappen, this quote from the post-qualifying press conference illustrates exactly where his head is at:
Max Verstappen on people saying the TD affected them after Singapore:
"We had a bad weekend. Of course then people start talking about ‘it's all because of the technical directives’. I think they can go suck on an egg."
pic.twitter.com/FwGuWtYJM1.— RBR Daily (@RBR_Daily) September 23, 2023
Should be fun tomorrow!