Max Verstappen sets the pace in Japan as Logan Sargeant crashes out

By Sports Desk April 05, 2024

Max Verstappen set the pace in first practice for the Japanese Grand Prix as Willams endured another Friday session to forget.

Reigning champion Verstappen retired in Melbourne a fortnight ago but still leads the way in the drivers’ standings and the Red Bull driver was once again topping the timesheets.

Verstappen’s time of one minute 20.056 seconds was enough to see him go quickest at Suzuka, with team-mate Sergio Perez his closest challenger 0.181 seconds back.

A red flag half way through the session stopped running for 11 minutes as Logan Sargeant crashed off at turn two – further adding to the Williams woes.

Sargeant sat out the Australian Grand Prix two weeks ago as team-mate Alex Albon took his car after destroying his own in a practice crash and the team currently have no spare chassis.

Williams team principal James Vowles confirmed the car had suffered “extensive” damage and that it would be a race against time for the mechanics to prepare it for Friday’s second practice.

“It’s going to be difficult,” he said of Sargeant’s chance of making FP2.

“Obviously we will do our utmost to try and get the car back out there again, but the damage is extensive. So it will take a while.

“It is pretty significant (damage). So the chassis is okay, fortunately, but I would say pretty much everything else isn’t – so the suspension around, the gearbox is cracked, big damage.”

Albon went 12th fastest after the action restarted, while Verstappen assumed his usual position as the car to beat.

Carlos Sainz, who won in Australia last time out, was third-fastest for Ferrari ahead of the Mercedes duo of George Russell and Lewis Hamilton, while the second Ferrari of Charles Leclerc was sixth.

Local favourite Yuki Tsunoda was ninth for RB behind both the Aston Martin of Fernando Alonso and McLaren’s Oscar Piastri – whose team-mate Lando Norris rounded out the top 10.

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  • Verstappen would 'look good in silver', says Mercedes chief Verstappen would 'look good in silver', says Mercedes chief

    Mercedes chief Ola Kallenius believes Max Verstappen would "look good in silver" as he strongly hinted at the team's continued interest in the Red Bull driver.

    Lewis Hamilton is leaving Mercedes to join Ferrari at the end of the year, though the team are yet to announce who his replacement will be.

    Since Hamilton's announcement, Mercedes have talked up Verstappen, who has a contract with Red Bull until 2028.

    However, rumours have circled the Dutchman's future with the team after legendary designer Adrian Newey announced his departure at the end of the season, with Verstappen, who won the Spanish Grand Prix last weekend, stressing he wants to be in the "right environment" in the fastest car.

    Speaking to Sky Germany, Kallenius once again made his interest in drawing Verstappen over to Mercedes clear.

    "The best driver wants to have the best car. And that's our job, to bring the best package together," Kallenius said.

    "The cards will be reshuffled in 2026. New order with new rules. That's also an opportunity. Who knows?

    "But I think Max would look good in silver, wouldn't he?"

    Despite those comments, Toto Wolff previously confirmed there had been no official talks with Verstappen.

    It is rumoured that 17-year-old Andrea Kimi Antonelli could be in line to partner George Russell next season, while Verstappen remains an outside target.

  • Norris '99% happy' as McLaren continue Verstappen pursuit Norris '99% happy' as McLaren continue Verstappen pursuit

    Lando Norris described himself as "99% happy" with where McLaren are in their ongoing pursuit of Max Verstappen, but the Briton is desperate to start cutting into the world champion's lead.

    Verstappen finished two seconds clear of Norris to edge a keenly contested Spanish Grand Prix on Sunday, extending his championship advantage to 69 points.

    Norris is taking the fight to the Dutchman, having finished in the top two in five of the last six Formula One races.

    However, he was frustrated not to convert his pole position to a victory in Barcelona, having also fallen just short at the previous race in Canada.

    Norris rued a start to the race which saw him passed by Verstappen and Mercedes’ George Russell, who ultimately finished fourth behind the two championship contenders and team-mate Lewis Hamilton.

    "I should have done better," Norris said after the race, per BBC Sport. 

    "We should have got some points back on Max. Potentially there was a chance to beat him in Canada. Two races I have been second and he has won.

    "But Max needs to stop winning. He is still extending [his lead] at the minute but we cannot afford to let him run away with it. 

    "If I made some better decisions in Canada and had made a better start [in Spain], we would have won two races. We have what it takes; it’s just about putting it all together.

    "I am happy with 99% of things and it is just the 1% - which is a big part of it - wasn’t enough.

    "Two metres I lost out in the beginning and this was enough for Max to be on the inside. If George wasn’t on the outside I could have covered him, but George got a good start and got a perfect slipstream, nothing I can do about that.

    "As soon as you make one mistake, they are going to be ahead."

    Verstappen and Norris both said after the race that the McLaren is currently the fastest car on the track.

    But Norris, who did triumph at the Miami Grand Prix last month, lost crucial ground to Verstappen as he remained behind Russell in the early stages until his compatriot pitted.

    He added: "I got a bad start, simple as that, and then I just couldn’t get past George. The car was incredible and we were for sure the quickest, I just lost it at the beginning. 

    "Lots of positives, one negative and I know that. I can work on it for next time."

    Norris will be back on track soon, with the Austrian Grand Prix and British Grand Prix to follow swiftly as part of a run which sees three races take place in as many weeks, part of the longest season in F1 history.

    He added: "Austria and Silverstone – two of my favourite tracks. We are on a good roll. I just need to tidy up a few bits and then we will be on top."

    The result saw Norris move up to second in the drivers' standings, two points clear of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who had to settle for fifth place in Spain.

  • Verstappen lauds rapid start as key to Spanish Grand Prix success Verstappen lauds rapid start as key to Spanish Grand Prix success

    Max Verstappen pinpointed a rapid start as the key to his fourth Spanish Grand Prix triumph on Sunday.

    The Red Bull driver secured his seventh Formula One victory of the 2024 season in Barcelona, but needed to hold off charges from McLaren's Lando Norris and seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton.

    Verstappen started the race behind pole-sitting Norris but soon fell down to third after George Russell surged to the front into the first corner.

    Yet the Dutchman seized control after bursting past Russell a few laps later, referencing his early pursuit as pivotal to his seventh triumph in 10 races this campaign.

    "I think what made the race was the beginning, I took the lead [at the start of Lap 3], and that's where I had my buffer then in that first stint where I could eke out that gap a little bit," Verstappen said.

    "I think after that, we had to drive quite a defensive race. Lando and McLaren, they were very, very quick today, especially on degradation, it seems always the last few laps of the stint, they were very, very fast.

    "But then I think we did everything well, we drove quite, I think, an aggressive strategy, but luckily it paid out until the end – it was quite close until the end but very happy to win here."

    Pressed on those opening moments, Verstappen added: "I had to do a bit of rallying on the straight, I had to go onto the grass a bit, which lost me a bit of momentum, so then of course we braked quite late into Turn 1.

    "Then, of course, I was quite determined to try and get the lead. Once I was in the lead, I could look after my tyres a bit better, and that definitely made my race today."

    This victory extended Verstappen's championship lead to 69 points, with Norris now his nearest challenger and Ferrari's Charles Leclerc dropping back down to third.

    Considering this race success, Verstappen lauded his tyre-management ability.

    "It's just managing the tyres, they get very hot around here with all the high-speed corners, so you're sliding around actually quite a lot," he added.

    "It was just managing the race throughout."

    Verstappen will now prepare for the Austrian Grand Prix next Sunday.

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