Round 4 of the 2024 Formula One World Championship last weekend would see an early edition of the Japanese Grand Prix at the Suzuka Circuit. Yuki Tsunoda would have a superb result on home soil whilst Alex Albon and Zhou Guanyu would both again have difficult weekends. Asian Motorsport reviews all the action from Japan.

By Seb Tirado

Free Practice 

Ayumu Iwasa heading out for FP1 | Credit: Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

FP1 would see Ayumu Iwasa’s F1 weekend debut when he drove Daniel Ricciardo’s car in the session. Halfway through the session, the red flag would come out when Logan Sargeant would crash his Williams into the outside barriers of T7, the resulting damage causing him to miss out on FP2. In the end, reigning World Champion Max Verstappen would lead a Red Bull 1-2 with a 1:30.056. For RB, Tsunoda would finish 9th with a 1:31.230 and Iwasa would finish his clean session in 16th with a 1:32.103. Albon and Zhou would finish 12th and 18th with a 1:31.943 and 1:32.638 respectively.

Rainfall in FP2 would see limited running as many teams opted to preserve their sets of intermediates for the possible wet Saturday and Sunday. Some drivers went out for exploratory laps on slick tyres, however only five drivers were ultimately properly classified with unrepresentative times. Among the five, Oscar Piastri would go quickest for McLaren with a 1:34.725 and Tsunoda would finish 4th with a 1:40.946.

FP3 on Saturday morning and final preparations before qualifying that afternoon would again see Verstappen lead a Red Bull 1-2 on the timing sheets with a 1:29.563. Tsunoda would again finish in 9th with a 1:30.341, Albon would finish 11th with a 1:30.533 and Zhou would finish 15th with a 1:31.067 after suffering some technical issues during the session.

Qualifying

Q1 would see Max Verstappen top the session with a 1:28.866. Albon and Tsunoda would progress through to Q2 in 15th and 11th with a 1:29.963 and a 1:29.775 respectively. Zhou’s struggles with his Kick Sauber would see him qualify 20th with a 1:30.143, behind Logan Sargeant, Kevin Magnussen, Pierre Gasly and Lance Stroll.

Verstappen would again go fastest in Q2 with a 1:28.740. Albon would be eliminated from the session in 14th with a 1:29.714, over a tenth of a second ahead of Esteban Ocon and behind Valtteri Bottas, Nico Hülkenberg and Daniel Ricciardo. Tsunoda would knock his teammate out of qualifying and finish in 10th with a 1:29.417, appearing in Q3 for the second consecutive time in his home race.

Max Verstappen would take Pole Position for the race with a 1:28.197, with his teammate Sergio Pérez completing a Red Bull front-row lock-out with a 1:28.263. Tsunoda would ultimately qualify 10th with a marginal improvement over his Q2 time with a 1:29.413.

Japanese Grand Prix 

The start of the Grand Prix | Credit: Formula One

Compared to last year, all the drivers would have a much cleaner run into T1. However, this wouldn’t last for long, as Ricciardo would clip the front-left of Albon’s FW46 heading into T2, sending them both into the outside barriers and out of the race. The red flag would soon be shown, and the stewards would deem the crash a racing incident. For the restart, both Tsunoda and Zhou would elect to swap from their starting sets of new mediums to sets of used and new softs respectively, starting from 12th and 18th.

The aftermath of Ricciardo and Albon’s T2 tangle | Credit: Formula One

The Grand Prix would restart on Lap 3, with Tsunoda taking advantage of a big lock-up for George Russell into T1 to move himself up to 9th and behind Lewis Hamilton. Zhou would also move up to 16th, overtaking Sargeant and Hülkenberg before the Esses. Tsunoda would soon after be overtaken by Russell on Lap 5 heading into T1. At the end of Lap 7, Tsunoda and Zhou would both come in for their first pit stops, going onto sets of new hards.

Zhou would come in again at the end of Lap 11 and then for a third time on Lap 12, retiring from the race with a suspected drivetrain issue. Elsewhere, Tsunoda would make an ambitious move around the outside of the Alpine of Gasly in T6 as he began to make his way back towards the points. Lap 22 would see a flurry of pit stops as five drivers, including Tsunoda, all came in at the same time. A swift stop by the RB pit crew for new hards would see Tsunoda make up three positions in the pit lane and come back out in 11th. After the race, Tsunoda would say that without the fast stop, “it would’ve been a lot more difficult to score points.”

Over the next few laps, the Japanese driver would perform a controlled defence of his position against the Aston Martin of Lance Stroll. On Lap 33, Tsunoda would perform another swift move around the outside of T6, this time on Hülkenberg to get into 10th and into the points. A lap later, race leader Verstappen would come in for his second stop, going onto a set of new hards. The race would calm down for a few laps until Lap 42 when Sargeant would lock-up heading into the second Degner curve and go off into the gravel. He would however be able to reverse back onto the track and continue on and avoid causing any intervention to the race.

Red Bull would score a third 1-2 finish of the season | Credit: Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

After 53 laps, Max Verstappen would take victory in Japan and the Fastest Lap of the race with a 1:33.706. Sergio Pérez would finish 2nd to make it a Red Bull 1-2. Carlos Sainz would take 3rd for Ferrari, with a 4th place finish for Charles Leclerc making it an identical Top 4 to Bahrain.

Tsunoda’s finish would be the team’s best in Japan since 2019 | Credit: Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Tsunoda would finish in 10th and finish in the points-paying positions for the first time ever in his home Grand Prix. Commenting after the race, he said “I’m feeling relieved. After I lost some positions on the first start, I felt a little disappointment for sure, but at the same time, I just focused on the second start. I had a good one and was able to make up a few positions. One of the big highlights was the pitstop. Our mechanics did a fantastic job, it was such a fast pitstop that allowed us to overtake [three] cars, and that’s insane!”

“Finally being able to score points in front of my home fans, here and those who couldn’t make it to the track and watched it on TV, makes me a very happy guy. I feel like my driving in today’s race was probably my best. I started my career here and to be able to score points here is extremely special.”

Speaking on their own retirements from the race, Zhou and Albon said that they had both had unfortunate weekends. “It has been a difficult weekend for me,” said the Chinese driver. “Unfortunately, we encountered some smaller issues over the weekend, from the reduced run time in FP3, that ultimately impacted my qualifying, to a DNF in a race where I had the pace to make up some positions. I had a good start and first laps of the race, before we noticed that we might have some technical problems and being informed to retire the car.

Zhou in the pits during the Grand Prix | Credit: Formula One

“While this is definitely not the start of the year that I hoped for, we keep working hard as we know things will improve: our overall pace looked good, and my focus now is on the preparation for my first home Grand Prix. With the team trackside and back at the factory, we’ll investigate our issues and work on them to be in a better position, so I’ll be fighting for points at home in China.”

Albon climbing out of his FW46 after his Lap 1 crash | Credit: Formula One

Albon commented that his incident with Ricciardo was “a tough one to take.” “All in all, a very frustrating and disappointing weekend,” he said. “It wasn’t a big crash but the way I hit the tyre wall, the car gripped and went under it, and I came to a hard stop really fast and aggressively, so that won’t help with the damage to the car. Looking ahead, we’ll assess the damage and get the car ready in time for China.”

Formula One Drivers’ Championship Top 10

  1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) – 77
  2. Sergio Pérez (Red Bull) – 64
  3. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) – 59
  4. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) – 55
  5. Lando Norris (McLaren) – 37
  6. Oscar Piastri (McLaren) – 32
  7. George Russell (Mercedes) – 24
  8. Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin) – 24
  9. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) – 10
  10. Lance Stroll (Aston Martin) – 9

Formula One Constructors’ Championship Top 5

  1. Red Bull Racing – 141
  2. Scuderia Ferrari – 120
  3. McLaren – 69
  4. Mercedes-AMG – 34
  5. Aston Martin – 33

The Formula One World Championship returns to the Shanghai International Circuit for the first time in five years on April 21st for the Chinese Grand Prix and the first Sprint weekend of the season.

Header image credit: Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

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