Mercedes leave Japan claiming to be in a better place – but jury is still out

Lewis Hamilton in the pits/Mercedes leave Japan claiming to be in a better place – but jury is still out

George Russell and Lewis Hamilton and George Russell finished sevenths and ninth respectively – Getty Images/Peter Fox

Just how worried should Mercedes fans be after the Japanese Grand Prix? The jury is out after yet another promising start to a weekend ended in a “difficult” race, one which left as many questions as answers.

Lewis Hamilton and George Russell finished ninth and seventh respectively. Exactly where they started, in other words, only the other way around. But it was difficult to tell afterwards whether the team’s weekend as a whole should be viewed positively or negatively.

It is a sign of how far Mercedes have fallen that it is even a question, of course.

Mercedes certainly tried to put a positive spin on things afterwards. Toto Wolff argued the weekend overall was “better than the results suggest” and that they have a better baseline now. He stressed the positives. On a track which did not particularly suit them, they were within half a second of pole in qualifying, a vast improvement on last year. And after an “atrocious” first stint on the hard tyre, they were reasonably competitive in stints two and three, with Russell catching McLaren’s Oscar Piastri and Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso in the closing laps of the race, and even passing the former.

But still. There is no getting away from the fact that Mercedes were wildly off the pace in that first stint. And even more worryingly, do not appear to know why.

Uniquely among teams in the top 10, Mercedes had chosen to gamble on the hard tyre after the race was red flagged on the first lap when RB’s Daniel Ricciardo moved over on Alex Albon’s Williams between turns two and three, leading to both drivers crashing out at high speed. The idea was to try for a one-stop, although whether that was wise is open to debate. Either way, those hopes quickly vanished.

Ricciardo, incidentally, was not punished by the stewards for his collision with Albon. But it was another very awkward race for the Australian, who is under huge pressure at the moment having been comfortably outperformed by team-mate Yuki Tsunoda all year. To rub salt in Ricciardo’s wounds, Tsunoda went on to claim 10th place and a well-earned point in his home grand prix after a brilliant first pitstop saw him jump many of his rivals.

That was only one place and one point behind Hamilton, who had in his own words a “difficult day”. How he must wish he was already driving a Ferrari.

While Max Verstappen sauntered to his 57th career victory, giving him a 13-point cushion over team-mate Sergio Perez, the Scuderia were comfortably second quickest in Japan. McLaren’s Lando Norris started third on the grid but could do nothing to hold off Carlos Sainz or Charles Leclerc, both of whom drove brilliantly on different strategies to secure third and fourth respectively.

Race winner Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing celebrates on the podium during the F1 Grand Prix of Japan at Suzuka International Racing Course on April 07, 2024 in Suzuka

Max Verstappen took his third win of the season with victory in the Japanese Grand Prix – Getty Images/Clive Rose

Mercedes, by contrast, had to battle hard just to stay where they started after a disastrous first stint. Hamilton later claimed to have picked up “a bit of damage at the restart”. Whether that was the case or not, his pace was so slow that by lap 14 he let Russell past rather than try to fight him. By lap 16 both Mercedes cars were already a full pitstop behind the leaders and it was clear the one-stop strategy was not going to work. Their pace picked up in the second stint, again on the hard compound, and even more so in the third stint on the medium. But by then the damage was done.

“I did my best,” Hamilton reflected. “But the result wasn’t a good one. Unfortunately, that is where our car is at the moment. I didn’t feel great on the hard tyre and picked up a little bit of damage on the restart. I had lots of understeer, particularly during that first stint, which was why I decided to let George past.”

Russell, for his part, was summoned to see the stewards after the race for a move on Piastri at the chicane. But he kept his seventh spot, and will be pleased with the fact that he is yet to be beaten by Hamilton at any race this season.

Like Wolff, he argued there were positives to the weekend; that it was so close with McLaren, Aston Martin and Ferrari results could well swing their way when they get to a track which is more suited to their car’s characteristics – such as Shanghai in two weeks’ time. He may well be right. But the nagging suspicion remains that Mercedes do not know why that should be.

“A poor first stint cost us today though and we need to find out why that was,” Wolff admitted, while adding in the next breath that Mercedes now have a “clear direction” and that their “experiments [in Japan] worked”. It is difficult to know what to make of it.

Verstappen wins in Japan: As it happened

09:15 AM BST

The next race

The fifth round of the 2024 F1 season is the Chinese Grand Prix, which runs for the first time since 2019. It’s a sprint race weekend with Friday hosting FP1 and sprint qualifying before the sprint race and then main qualifying on Saturday. The Chinese Grand Prix itself is on Sunday April 21.

09:02 AM BST

Hamilton and Wolff speak to Sky Sports

A bit of reflection from Hamilton about strategy but he ends the interview just saying: “In general the car just feels pretty bad.” That’s not what he was saying on Friday and Saturday. Who could have predicted that after the last two years?

We ended up where we started. An atrocious first stint, we need to find out what it was. I think it’s much better than it looked at the final results. We need to go well on all circuits, there’s no excuse. We’ve reflected on the result, the car is becoming quicker.

09:00 AM BST

Russell speaks to Sky Sports

It’s extremely close within those four teams [behind Red Bull]. I think it’s going to come down to qualifying. I think whoever manages to qualifying at the front of that pack will finish at the front of that pack. We have work to do and none of us are content to finish second best. I think China will suit us better.

Not sure that’s quite right given what Ferrari did today.

08:52 AM BST

Charles Leclerc hopes that Ferrari can hopefully fight Red Bull for the constructors…

…at the end of the season. He does say that it is essentially the most optimistic reading of it, however. I think there will be a few tracks where they can compete with Red Bull but will do well to pick up more than a few more wins by the end of the year. Fingers crossed, though.

08:40 AM BST

Before the race I asked “what of Ricciardo?”

I don’t think that first-lap incident was entirely his fault or rather it was a classic opening-lap race incident. Still, he needed a good clean weekend and being eliminated denied him the chance to show what he had.

This man, though, got in effect a “class win”.

He might not be in contention for a Red Bull seat but Tsunoda is doing his chances of finding a decent race seat no harm. Where would be an upgrade for him, though? Aston Martin is possibly the only route but you couldn’t see him replacing Alonso if Stroll stays…

08:37 AM BST

Driver of the day for Leclerc

Yeah, a decent race on a one-stop.

Not the lead Ferrari driver today but it was his qualifying that cost him three or four grid slots and he did well to make up four to jump both McLarens and Alonso.

08:33 AM BST

Lando Norris on his race

Just not enough. I think everything fell back in line with Red Bull, Ferrari, us. It doesn’t feel great. It’s hard to fight on a track like this but we gave it a good shot and gave it what we did but got the maximum points but for these top two teams.

That looks a bit downbeat on paper but I think he is disappointed that they are the third fastest team comfortably but knows that he couldn’t have done much more today and this weekend.

08:30 AM BST

How many more wins will this man take in 2024?

Red Bull Racing's Dutch driver Max Verstappen celebrates on the podium after winning the Formula One Japanese Grand Prix race at the Suzuka circuit in Suzuka, Mie prefecture on April 7, 2024

Red Bull Racing’s Dutch driver Max Verstappen celebrates on the podium after winning the Formula One Japanese Grand Prix race at the Suzuka circuit in Suzuka, Mie prefecture on April 7, 2024

That is win number 57 for Max Verstappen and is his 22nd since the start of last season. In other words, his 22nd in 26 races. If he carries on at that rate he will match Lewis Hamilton some point in 2026…

08:21 AM BST

Updated constructor standings

Some big gaps emerging there. Ferrari clearly the second-best team. McLaren putting some distance between themselves and Mercedes and Aston Martin. RB and Haas the other other teams outside that top five to have scored points and, currently, are the only teams really threatening that.

08:19 AM BST

Updated driver standings

Verstappen leads by 13. Hamilton at least moves into double figures but 10 points in four races is… a bad start.

08:14 AM BST

The podium finishers have a chat about the Ricciardo/Albon incident

“He was in the blind spot,” Perez says.

“You can see Daniel looking left. It’s really unfortunate,” is Verstappen’s assessment. Impressive that Verstappen notices that from a couple of seconds of footage. He’s a different breed.

08:10 AM BST

Verstappen reacts to his third win of the season

It was very nice, I think the critical bit was of course the start. The car just got better and better for me during the race. Very nice, everything just went really well. Couldn’t have been any better. It was a little hiccup, the last race but it is fantastic to win here.

08:09 AM BST

Sergio Perez on a solid second, his third of the year

It was a good weekend for the team, first of all with the start doing that restart again it’s always hard to keep the focus for such a long period of time. I think we paid the price a little bit because we were a little bit off-balance in that first stint. On the hard stint I was a lot more comfortable, the pace came back. I think we are in a good momentum. If you remember here last year it was probably my worst weekend… I think we can be strong anywhere else and it’s been a good weekend.

08:07 AM BST

Sainz reacts to a great podium

I had a good race, very happy. It was quite tough out there with the degradation but suddenly the clouds came and the degradation went lower. I had to overtake a lot of cars out there today and overtaking was tricky. I thought it was on but I thought it was going to be very difficult to get back in fourth or P3. I knew I needed a very big delta to approach Lando and Charles and in the end we managed. In the end I was quick on the hard tyre… and I could get the moves done and get the podium.

08:06 AM BST

12 seconds the gap between the winner and Perez

20.1sec between the lead Red Bull and the next-best non-Red Bull car. Today that was Sainz. That is pretty much what we expected, I think. This is a track where the RB20 was expected to excel. Well, in fairness that is all of them but especially true at Suzuka.

08:03 AM BST

Not sure we expected anything else from Verstappen

Another decent race for Perez, who now moves back into second place in the standings. Russell may well lose his seventh place, depending on what the stewards decide on that incident with Piastri which you can watch below:

08:00 AM BST

Japanese GP – Classifcation

  1. VER

  2. PER

  3. SAI

  4. LEC

  5. NOR

  6. ALO

  7. RUS

  8. PIA

  9. HAM

  10. TSU

  11. HUL

  12. STR

  13. MAG

  14. BOT

  15. OCO

  16. GAS

  17. SAR


08:00 AM BST


Easy as you like. It’s 1-2 for Red Bull, their third 1-2 of the season and the fourth 1-2 from any team in four rounds this year. Sainz takes the final podium spot then it’s Leclerc, Norris, Alonso, Russell and Piastri.

Tsunoda drives a brilliant race to take points at home. Couldn’t have done any better.

07:59 AM BST


That mistake, with the aid of DRS, gives Russell the chance to take Piastri at turn one and he goes around the outside! Alonso is the next man up in sixth but is he too far ahead? Maybe… 1.6sec the gap.

07:58 AM BST

Lap 52 of 53 – Verstappen cruising to victory

Will Russell have the opportunity to try another move? I am not sure…

Wait, Piastri runs wide at the chicane and that will probably seal his fate?

07:56 AM BST

Lap 51 of 53 – This Russell/Piastri battle is helping Alonso

Alonso might well be doing his darndest to keep Piastri in DRS range so that Russell cannot move ahead of the McLaren and then chase the Aston Martin down. Smart racing from a smart driver.

Sainz looking comfortable for this podium spot now.

Can Russell get Piastri this time? Not at the chicane as Alonso backs off and gives Piastri DRS.

07:55 AM BST

Lap 50 of 53 – Piastri getting fighty with Russell

He sticks it up the inside of the chicane and Piastri goes over the chicane and they touch, just. Russell then has a look at turn one but cannot make it stick. Russell has been noted for that chicane incident, for forcing another driver off the track. It was late on and Piastri had to go over the chicane to avoid a collision.

07:52 AM BST

Lap 49 of 53 – Verstappen leads Perez by 11sec

Leclerc now four seconds behind Sainz. Norris 2.2sec behind Leclerc but does not have the pace to challenge.

07:51 AM BST

Lap 48 of 53 – Russell is closing on the Piastri/Alonso battle for sixth

Stroll complains about how slow the Aston Martin is on the straight. “It’s like a different category!” he says, also calling it “unbelievable”.

07:50 AM BST

Lap 47 of 53 – Top 10 and gaps

  1. VER

  2. PER +11.4

  3. SAI +20.6

  4. LEC +23.5

  5. NOR +25.7

  6. ALO +39.3

  7. PIA +39.9

  8. RUS +41.1

  9. HAM +46.1

  10. TSU +84.5

Stroll is eight seconds behind Tsunoda and was about 0.7sec faster than him last time around so probably doesn’t have the pace to challenge for that final point.

07:48 AM BST

Lap 46 of 53 – Sainz closes up through the final chicane

He gets DRS and then goes around the outside at turn one! Leclerc took the inside line and did not exactly give up the place but knew there was little point in getting too fighty. Sainz’s tyre advantage is worth too much. Fourth from eighth would be a good result for Leclerc, really.

Encouraging race pace from Ferrari, albeit with Sainz 20-odd seconds behind leader Verstappen… still, that’s closer than they were last year.

07:46 AM BST

Lap 45 of 53 – Leclerc gets a radio message

Don’t waste time racing Sainz, our fight is with Norris is the sentiment. I am not sure the latter is correct. His fight is with Sainz but Sainz is on 10-lap fresher tyres and is surely the favourite here. Will Leclerc make life hard for him? Leclerc has yet to finish ahead of Sainz this season…

07:45 AM BST

Lap 44 of 53 – Norris loses fourth to Sainz

It was on the cards after that lock up at the hairpin and before, really. 1.6sec is the gap between the two Ferraris. Leclerc has done a fine job today but might find it hard to keep his Spanish team-mate behind him today.

Carlos Sainz of Spain driving (55) the Ferrari SF-24 on track during the F1 Grand Prix of Japan at Suzuka International Racing Course on April 07, 2024 in Suzuka, Japan

Carlos Sainz of Spain driving (55) the Ferrari SF-24 on track during the F1 Grand Prix of Japan at Suzuka International Racing Course on April 07, 2024 in Suzuka, Japan

Ferrari seem to want to let their cars race. Good.

07:43 AM BST

Lap 43 of 53 – Into the final 10 laps

Norris locks up ahead of Sainz and he is going to be vulnerable to the second Ferrari now! I think it’s a matter of time before the former McLaren man overtakes the current one. Looks like it will be one Ferrari or the other on the podium today.

07:42 AM BST

Lap 42 of 53 – Yellow flags!

Sargeant runs wide at Degner 2 and he’s not in the barriers but reverses out of the gravel, quite slowly, onto the track. Eventually. He did not hit the barriers but I assume he had to wait for a gap so it was safe to rejoin the track. He’s now down in 17th after having a decent race up to that point.

07:41 AM BST

Lap 41 of 53 – Full order

  1. VER

  2. PER

  3. LEC

  4. NOR

  5. SAI

  6. ALO

  7. PIA

  8. RUS

  9. HAM

  10. TSU

  11. MAG

  12. BOT

  13. STR

  14. HUL

  15. SAR

  16. OCO

  17. GAS


07:39 AM BST

Lap 40 of 53 – Sainz told he can race his team-mate

Has been told the podium is the aim. It’s doable. Replays show Hamilton’s stop had a bit of a sticky wheel gun and it cost him about a second. He’s currently 8.7sec behind his team-mate.

07:38 AM BST

Lap 39 of 53 – Verstappen leads Perez by 8.5sec

Leclerc in third but Norris is now within two seconds. Both are on hard tyres of the same age. Sainz is on much fresher hard tyres and is chasing down Norris at a rate of a few tenths per lap. That is going to be the interesting battle. Sainz driving superbly at the moment so let’s see if he can get that final podium spot.

Hamilton pits again and comes out in ninth. Tsunoda looking moderately comfortable for that final point.

07:36 AM BST

Lap 38 of 53 – Russell pits

No real loss there because Tsunoda in 10th is so far behind him. May as well try and do 15 laps on the quicker medium tyre. Norris’s turn to run wide at Degner 2 and loses the rear end on throttle application. He carries on but doesn’t seem to lose too much time.

Piastri is chasing down Alonso and he has DRS on the pit straight but he’s nowhere near close enough to have a proper look.

07:33 AM BST

Lap 37 of 53 – Top 10 and gaps

  1. VER

  2. PER +7.5

  3. LEC +2.6

  4. NOR +11.8

  5. RUS +16.1

  6. HAM +19.4

  7. SAI +20.3

  8. ALO +26.3

  9. PIA +27.1

  10. TSU +56.9

07:31 AM BST

Lap 36 of 53 – Sainz leads Verstappen by four seconds

But Sainz will have to stop again. Perez gets Norris and then Leclerc to go net second on the track. Sainz locks up in the final chicane and misses the apex but continues on. Perez has just set the fastest lap of the race. Sainz is told to pit from the lead. Big battle for the final podium spot. The other two spots… not so much.

07:29 AM BST

Lap 35 of 53 – Verstappen pits

This surely is the only thing that can stop him winning this race. And he escapes cleanly, though Sainz now leads the race on track.

07:28 AM BST

Lap 34 of 53 – Perez pits again

Further confusing what is really happening in this race. In short it’s all a bit up in the air. Can’t see Perez losing second but the upshot is that he’s currently in fifth and chases Norris.

07:27 AM BST

Lap 33 of 53 – Russell complaining of turbulence

Says his helmet is nearly flying off his head. That never a good thing, obviously.

Meanwhile, Tsunoda is chasing Magnussen for the final point and harries him aggressively through the start of the lap and gets him through the esses to the delight of the crowd! Excellent stuff.

07:26 AM BST

Lap 32 of 53 – Piastri stops

And he returns to the track on fresh hard tyres.

07:24 AM BST

Lap 31 of 53 – Piastri’s turn to ride wide at Degner 2

Easily done. Loses him probably half a second or so. No big deal.

07:22 AM BST

Lap 30 of 53 – Here’s the top 10 and gaps

  1. VER

  2. PER +11.0

  3. SAI +16.4

  4. ALO +24.8

  5. PIA +28.6

  6. LEC +32.9

  7. NOR +34.2

  8. RUS +36.2

  9. HAM +39.9

  10. HUL +64.8

Tsunoda about4.3sec behind Hulkenberg, chasing points in his home race.

07:21 AM BST

Lap 29 of 53 – Verstappen leads Perez by 10.7sec

The five or so second lead he built in the first stint meant he did not get as caught up in traffic as Perez did.

07:19 AM BST

Lap 28 of 53 – Norris gets Russell around the outside at turn one this time!

It’s a closer move than the one he did against Hamilton earlier on but it looked great on TV. Norris up into seventh on track and that was crucial for his strategy.

07:18 AM BST

Lap 27 of 53 – Russell gets Norris at the stops!

The Ferrari and McLaren come out of the pit lane as they were but Russell gets between them and is now in seventh. He will set about chasing Leclerc but might not be able to manage it. Norris looks more likely to get Russell than Russell Leclerc.

Norris is right on the Mercedes rear wing at the final chicane and gets DRS.

07:16 AM BST

Lap 26 of 53 – A mistake from Leclerc!

Doing such a great job on 24-lap old mediums he runs wide at Degner and Perez gets through! That will have cost him a couple of seconds. He now has Norris on his rear wing with the McLaren told he should come into the pit lane. And he does, as does Leclerc. He is told that is because of the threat from the Mercedes of George Russell.

07:15 AM BST

Lap 25 of 53 – Leclerc keeping Perez at bay

Encouraging race pace from the Ferrari here. I think he is putting himself in contention for a podium. He will be up against Norris and Sainz in that battle, I think.

07:14 AM BST

Lap 24 of 53 – Top 10

  1. VER

  2. LEC

  3. PER

  4. NOR

  5. SAI

  6. ALO

  7. PIA

  8. RUS

  9. HAM

  10. HUL

07:13 AM BST

Lap 23 of 53 – Hamilton’s turn to pit

Like Russell he goes onto a new set of hard tyres. A big melee in the pit lane with five cars coming in – and out – at the same time. I think that worked out well for RB and Tsunoda, who is challenging for the points.

RB's Japanese driver Yuki Tsunoda drives during the Formula One Japanese Grand Prix race at the Suzuka circuit in Suzuka, Mie prefecture on April 7, 2024.

RB’s Japanese driver Yuki Tsunoda drives during the Formula One Japanese Grand Prix race at the Suzuka circuit in Suzuka, Mie prefecture on April 7, 2024.

Perez on the back of the Ferrari of Leclerc for second now, about seven seconds behind Verstappen who is absolutely cruising this race. Wonder if this first stint will put Leclerc in podium contention. Perhaps…

07:10 AM BST

Lap 22 of 53 – Top 10 as it stands

  1. VER

  2. LEC

  3. NOR

  4. PER

  5. SAI

  6. RUS

  7. ALO

  8. HAM

  9. PIA

  10. MAG

Magnussen doing a good job for Haas today. They expected to struggle here but they are doing OK. Hulkenberg’s hopes of points look a bit more forlorn. Perez is closing in on Norris for third and gets it done cleanly at the chicane. Again, Norris’s fight isn’t really with the Red Bull today but for third with the Ferraris.

Russell comes in to change his hard tyres… they didn’t really commit to that strategy, Mercedes.

07:08 AM BST

Watch: Norris gets Hamilton at turn one

07:07 AM BST

Lap 21 of 53 – Hamilton loses sixth to Sainz

And he immediately gets on the radio to say he wants to change his strategy. Russell is the next man up the road for Sainz and surely is not long going to be ahead, either. Sainz then gets Russell at the inside of Spoon.

07:06 AM BST

Lap 20 of 53 – Verstappen is going to retake the lead very shortly

Still trying to see how the differing strategy choices play out here, but surely none will disrupt a Red Bull 1-2.

07:06 AM BST

Lap 19 of 53 – Leclerc leads Verstappen

Leclerc hasn’t stopped though. Nice to see Verstappen on TV for once, though.

07:02 AM BST

Lap 18 of 53 – Some differing tyre choices here

Both Red Bulls went medium to medium. Norris moved from medium to hard, as did Piastri.

Perez gets Russell this time with a carbon copy of a move through 130R. Nicely done, yet again.

Here’s the top six with Leclerc and the two Mercedes cars yet to stop:

  1. LEC

  2. VER

  3. NOR

  4. PER

  5. RUS

  6. HAM

07:01 AM BST

Lap 17 of 53 – Norris goes around the outside of turn one!

Nicely done. Hamilton does not put up too much resistance and knows his race isn’t really with Norris today. He had to be bold there and do it in the corner rather than on the straight with DRS because of his minor wobble at the final turn.

Perez is chasing Hamilton and the Mercedes driver puts up some fight here. Perez goes up the inside at the fast right-hander at 130R! Brave and bold and he gets the move done. Not sure Hamilton was going to fight it there…

07:00 AM BST

Lap 16 of 53 – Norris is right on the back of Hamilton for fourth

Norris on fresh hards, Hamilton on slightly harder softs. A critical overtake for the McLaren man’s race. He gets a bit twitchy out of the final turn and that harms his attempt to get Hamilton at turn one… or does it?

Perez and Verstappen have both pitted.

06:57 AM BST

Lap 15 of 53 – Top 10 and gaps

  1. VER

  2. PER +5.5

  3. SAI +9.7

  4. LEC +17.7

  5. RUS +20.7

  6. HAM +22.3

  7. NOR +23.5

  8. ALO +35.5

  9. PIA +37.7

  10. MAG +40.3

06:57 AM BST

Lap 14 of 53 – Verstappen leads by five seconds

Hmmm. A familiar feeling to this race now. Sainz lapping similarly to Perez ahead of him.

06:54 AM BST

Lap 13 of 53 – The second McLaren of Piastri is in now, too

Another McLaren vs Ferrari battle there. Alonso’s pace on 11-lap old softs is still pretty good as it happens. Piastri resumes the track in 12th behind Sargeant. Verstappen leads Perez by 4.3sec.

Hamilton asks if he should let George by. Hamilton in sixth, Russell seventh. Hamilton is then told to swap positions. Zhou comes into the pits, out again and then returns the next lap. He could well be retiring his Sauber.

06:52 AM BST

Lap 12 of 53 – In comes Norris

It’s an undercut attempt. McLaren were eating through their tyres. Will Ferrari try the tyre offset here? Possibly. Leclerc still close to Piastri but no attempts at a pass yet. Yet.

06:50 AM BST

Lap 11 of 53 – Leclerc closing in on Piastri

He is within DRS range. Sargeant gets Gasly on the pit straight to move into 13th – Williams’ last remaining points hope in this race.

06:50 AM BST

Lap 10 of 53 – Russell complains of steering issues

He feels vibrations. Not great on a set of tyres which he wants to go long on. He did lock up at the start, losing a position.

Meanwhile, Verstappen is checking out at the front: he now leads Perez by 3.1sec. 

Japanese Grand Prix - Suzuka Circuit, Suzuka, Japan - April 7, 2024 Red Bull's Max Verstappen in action during the race

Japanese Grand Prix – Suzuka Circuit, Suzuka, Japan – April 7, 2024 Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in action during the race

06:47 AM BST

Lap 9 of 53 – Verstappen extends his lead to 2.7sec over Perez

Norris is the same gap behind Perez. Sainz is 1.1sec behind Norris so that could be the fight to watch in the top six, though Piastri isn’t too far away from Alonso in fifth.

06:46 AM BST

Lap 8 of 53 – Tsunoda pits as a reaction to Bottas pitting

But he loses the place to the Finn in the Sauber. Magnussen making good progress, up to 12th in the leading Haas. Veerstappen now leads by 2.8sec.

06:45 AM BST

Lap 7 of 53 – Verstappen now leads by 2.2sec

Perez running wide has cost him a bit, not that Lando Norris is really keeping up with him. He’s as far behind Perez as Perez is behind Verstappen.

06:42 AM BST

Lap 6 of 53 – DRS is enabled

But Perez is out of DRS range so it is kind of irrelevant. Verstappen sets the fastest lap of the race as Stroll gets the ALpine of Ocon for 12th as they head into turn one.

Perez goes wide at the second Degner curve. Looks like it cost him about a second. Gives Verstappen breathing room out front, not that he needs it.

06:41 AM BST

Lap 5 of 53 – Top 10

  1. VER

  2. PER

  3. NOR

  4. SAI

  5. ALO

  6. PIA

  7. LEC

  8. HAM

  9. RUS

  10. TSU

06:40 AM BST

Lap 4 of 53 – Verstappen leads by 0.8sec

Perez keeping up just about. Hulkenberg has dropped back from the top 10 to way down in 17th. Poor start. Tsunoda is actually in 10th and the timing screens now reflect that.

06:38 AM BST

Lap 3 of 53 – RACE RESTARTS

It’s another good start from Verstappen but Perez is closer to him through turn one, not that he can do anything about it. Verstappen leads Perez and Norris, as they were. It’s not really an overtaking spot there. Hamilton and Russell have gone onto the hard tyres for the restart, as have Ocon and Gasly. Stroll has made his way up to 12th. Tsunoda is showing as in 18th on the timing screens but that is wrong.

06:35 AM BST

OK. We will be starting lap 3 then

A standing restart. Verstappen on pole. Perez second

06:33 AM BST

Right, here we go…

A few tyre changes. Looks like Hamilton has switched to a brand new set of hard tyres…

The cars come out of the pit lane for a secondary formation lap.

06:22 AM BST

Race to resume at 6.32am BST

In 10 minutes’ time in other words. Good news.

06:21 AM BST

Still no word on the restart yet

But this is what most of the drivers are up to.

Hulkenberg will be happy that they will take the restart positions from the first sector line. He jumped into the top 10.

06:19 AM BST

FIA confirms it will be a standing restart

That’s good. A rolling start would have been a bit odd in this circumstance.

06:17 AM BST

Watch: Albon and Ricciardo collide on lap one

06:17 AM BST

That incident has been noted

But I am not sure that anyone will be penalised for it. If it is anyone it is Ricciardo but I don’t think he is massively at fault. There are just cars everywhere at that point.

06:12 AM BST

The stoppage length here will not be so much dictated by car removal

But by repairing the tyre barrier which seems to be in a sorry state. Albon is out of the car and is OK, by the way. Not sure if the Williams chassis is, though. It’s an expensive repair job once more though it wasn’t his fault.

06:08 AM BST

Lap 1 of 53 – The race has been red flagged

Ricciardo is thankfully out of the car and Albon is on the radio to say he’s OK but looks to be unable to get out of his car just yet…

What happened? Albon was on the outside a the esses and it moved over on Albon, they both went onto the grass and then into the tyre barriers. A racing incident? Probably. Too many cars and not enough track. Ricciardo looked like he had to move to avoid an accident on his other side.

06:06 AM BST


It’s a good start for Verstappen who keeps the lead. Sainz tries to jump Norris and gets close to it but the McLaren driver keeps third!

There’s been a big crash at the back between a Williams and an RB. The tyre barrier is all over the place. It’s Ricciardo and Albon and they are both out of the race.


06:04 AM BST

Alonso will be one to watch at the start

Verstappen reaches his grid spot and waits as the rest of the pack line up behind him.

06:02 AM BST

The formation lap has begun

And everyone is away cleanly. Alonso the only driver in the top 10 on soft tyres. 12-17 are all on softs and then Magnussen mediums, Sargeeant on softs and Zhou on mediums. Not a single car on the hards.

05:59 AM BST

Podium prediction

Hmmm. Red Bull 1-2 really. With Norris in third. As you were, as it were. Will be interesting to see how Mercedes go, too. Still waiting to see the starting tyre types for the grid. Suzuka looks great, bathed in sunshine today after a couple of greyer days and a damp Friday.

05:54 AM BST

Potential strategies for this race

Finding the right strategy at Suzuka will not be easy as there are many factors at play, depending on grid position and available sets. On paper, a two-stop with C3 and C1 is the quickest choice. #Pirelli #Fit4F1

— Pirelli Motorsport (@pirellisport) April 6, 2024

Will we see any aggressive drivers choose the soft tyre to start on? There is a risk of a safety car here. Not because it’s a street circuit but because it’s an old-school track with gravel traps and not enormous run off areas and that punishes mistakes. It’s also a challenging track to push on.

05:52 AM BST

Into the final 10 minutes before the race starts

I think we could do with Verstappen being jumped at the start, but then again even if he does… how long will it take for him to regain the lead? It doesn’t tend to happen too often. Last year it was a big close but he got his elbows out and kept first place through the first couple of turns. Not the easiest track to overtake on and it’s mostly done in the final chicane and then with DRS on the pit straight.

05:46 AM BST

The starting grid

1. VER 2. PER
3. NOR 4. SAI
5. ALO 6. PIA
7. HAM 8. LEC
9. RUS 10. TSU
11. RIC 12. HUL
13. BOT 14. ALB
15. OCO 16. STR
17. GAS 18. MAG
19. SAR 20. ZHO

05:41 AM BST

What of Daniel Ricciardo?

The Australian has been out-qualified by Tsunoda at every race so far, making it 4-0. I think his showing yesterday was half-decent, not too far off Tsunoda and in 11th. That is acceptable. Not acceptable for an F1 driver who wants to get a Red Bull seat (as is his aim) next year, but for one who will hang onto his seat for a little longer.

Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Visa Cash App RB walks in the Paddock prior to the F1 Grand Prix of Japan at Suzuka International Racing Course on April 07, 2024 in Suzuka, Japan.

Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Visa Cash App RB walks in the Paddock prior to the F1 Grand Prix of Japan at Suzuka International Racing Course on April 07, 2024 in Suzuka, Japan.

But he needs more than that if he wants to stay in F1 until the end of the season. Why would RB hang onto him just to be level with Tsunoda? Liam Lawson came in for him when he was injured towards the end of last year and did pretty well. There is no point RB in persisting with Ricciardo just to be level or second best with Tsunoda, I am sad to say.

05:37 AM BST

Raw pace ranking

This is how each team compares in qualifying over the four sessions this year. In effect it rates each team’s quickest lap in comparison to the fastest lap in qualifying overall.

Again, Red Bull out front clearly with Ferrari around 0.3 per cent behind, McLaren around half a per cent and then another gap to Mercedes 0.758sec behind, just behind Aston Martin. A pretty big gap down to the sixth fastest team, RB. Alpine still lagging behind. No team trending massively upwards so far but we are only four races in and upgrades will be coming throughout the season for most of them.

05:34 AM BST

An off day for Russell, too

He qualified in ninth and struggled to match Hamilton at any point in qualifying. At least he escaped a racing sanction for this incident with Oscar Piastri in the pit lane.

“That wasn’t very British of George Russell”

Russell pushes in front of Piastri in the pits, and the incident will be investigated after the session…

— Sky Sports F1 (@SkySportsF1) April 6, 2024

05:29 AM BST

A bit of an off day for Charles Leclerc

Fair to say that he has been second best to Carlos Sainz this season. Sainz now leads Leclerc 2-1 in qualifying, having finished as the lead Ferrari driver in the two races he has competed in. Leclerc was a little perplexed as to where the pefrormance went as he said the car felt good but overall there is not much between the Ferrari pair but Sainz edged it. That said, qualifying is normally his strongest suit. Nothing to get too worried about though and all to play for in the race, though four positions will be hard to make up.

Here’s how the rest of the intra-team qualifying records stack up so far this year:

05:26 AM BST

Yuki Tsunoda put in another strong performance for RB yesterday

Another Q3 performance, three in a row now. And in the first race he was only 11th. Is he doing enough to be in contention for that second Red Bull seat? I think that is a tough ask given who is available in 2025. Still, doing his reputation no harm. In for a shout of ranking as the most successful Japanese driver, but here is how it stands on that front right now.

05:22 AM BST

Lewis Hamilton was fairly upbeat despite finishing qualifying in seventh

It was the first time he has out-qualified Russell this season, so that is something. And he says the car feels as good as he has. He attributes his position to it being so tight behind Red Bull. Shave a tenth off his time and he’s fourth so perhaps that is a fair comment.

Here’s what he said after qualifying:

“I was giving it everything, the team did a really great job the past week making adjustments to the set-up. It’s the first weekend I’ve not gone crazy with set-up and I think we got the car into a much nicer working window. It’s been really nice driving, the guys are just faster. Maybe if we could have done something a little different we could have been a tenth faster maybe, but other than that I think that was everything. I’m hoping the race will be stronger tomorrow, I’ve really enjoyed driving this weekend.

“I personally believe so, yeah [that they have a direction]. From track to track it has been really hard to get set-up and it’s been so far out each time. This weekend is much more in the sweet spot so I hope that continues in the coming races and then we’ve got to add performance.”

Let’s see how they do today.

05:14 AM BST

Current driver standings

How much does Verstappen extend his lead by today? Leclerc starts in eighth…

05:07 AM BST

Lance Stroll found wanting in qualifying again

For what it’s worth I think Lance Stroll has improved overall at Aston Martin so far this season. He is still a long way off team-mate Fernando Alonso, though. His struggles have always been in qualifying and his performance yesterday was a poor one. He was eliminated in Q1 whilst Alonso made it into the top five.

The average gap between team-mates is no larger than at Aston Martin. Overall if you look at those inter-team battles there are some big gaps but a few tight ones. Hulkenberg is showing his worth over one lap again whilst Piastri is doing a good job of keeping up with Norris. I am not sure Sargeant or Zhou will be in F1 next year and their qualifying performances this year are just one part of the problem, both around half a second off their team-mates. As good as Bottas and Albon are over one lap that is poor.

04:55 AM BST

Qualifying times

  1. Max Verstappen (Ned) Red Bull 1min 28.197secs

  2. Sergio Perez (Mex) Red Bull 1:28.263

  3. Lando Norris (Gbr) McLaren 1:28.489

  4. Carlos Sainz Jr. (Spa) Ferrari 1:28.682

  5. Fernando Alonso (Spa) Aston Martin 1:28.686

  6. Oscar Piastri (Aus) McLaren 1:28.760

  7. Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes GP 1:28.766

  8. Charles Leclerc (Mon) Ferrari 1:28.786

  9. George Russell (Gbr) Mercedes GP 1:29.008

  10. Yuki Tsunoda (Jpn) RB 1:29.413

  11. Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) RB 1:29.472

  12. Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Haas F1 1:29.494

  13. Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Sauber 1:29.593

  14. Alexander Albon (Tha) Williams 1:29.714

  15. Esteban Ocon (Fra) Alpine 1:29.816

  16. Lance Stroll (Can) Aston Martin 1:30.024

  17. Pierre Gasly (Fra) Alpine 1:30.119

  18. Kevin Magnussen (Den) Haas F1 1:30.131

  19. Logan Sargeant (USA) Williams 1:30.139

  20. Guanyu Zhou (Chn) Sauber 1:30.143

04:51 AM BST

Good morning F1 fans

Welcome to our coverage for the 2024 Japanese Grand Prix from Suzuka. One of the very great tracks, up there with Monza, Silverstone and Spa-Francorchamps for my money. And perhaps the Circuit of the Americas, too. It felt a bit weird when we had the Japanese Grand Prix at Mount Fuji but Suzuka just feels right now.

What can we expect from today’s race? Well, the RB20 being the brilliant all-round car that it is was expected to be the class of the field and that has turned out to be the case. Max Verstappen took his fourth pole position of the season’s four races, though it was by a narrow margin from team-mate Sergio Perez.

Just 0.066sec separated the Red Bull pair. Although both of Verstappen’s laps were good enough for pole, both of Perez’s laps were within a tenth of the Dutchman’s equivalent efforts. That does not happen all that often. In third is the man who finished second in last year’s race, McLaren’s Lando Norris who was just under three-tenths off the pace. Decent effort. It was a bit of a mix of cars down from there with the order behind being: Sainz (Ferrari), Alonso (Aston Martin), Piastri (McLaren), Hamilton (Mercedes), Leclerc (Ferrari), Russell (Mercedes) and Tsunoda (RB).

The result represented a reflection of the status quo in 2024: Red Bull fastest but then uncertainty in the chasing pack. Is that a reason to be despondent? Perhaps, but there are reasons to be cheerful. Firstly, Perez was close to Verstappen. Secondly that pack was both closer within itself and far closer to the front than last year. In 2023 the gap between first and second was 0.581sec, the gap between first and fourth 0.665sec and the gfap between first and sixth nearly a full second. This is a big improvement in the competitive order and on a track which is a pretty good bellwether for the measure of an F1 car.

Does this mean we might see a competitive race? Well, I wouldn’t get your hopes up too much but it would be good for Perez to be a fixture in Verstappen’s race and hopefully for some of the bunch behind to be able to disrupt things a little. Last year Verstappen beat Norris by just under 20 seconds. So let’s see what happens this year.

The race starts at 6am BST and we will have all the build-up, live updates and reaction from Suzuka.

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