McLaren’s Oscar Piastri leads the way in rain-affected second practice at Suzuka

By Sports Desk April 05, 2024

Second practice for Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix proved to be a damp squib as McLaren’s Oscar Piastri set the fastest time on a weather-affected session.

Local favourite Yuki Tsunoda and his RB team-mate Daniel Ricciardo were the only drivers to set lap times early on in changeable conditions, but set their times on the intermediate tyre.

The hour-long session began in rain and, although it later stopped, the track was not deemed sufficiently dry enough for most teams to send out their cars.

Piastri was one of them and his time of one minute 34.725 seconds proved fast enough to top the timesheets, with the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari the only others to set representative times.

Earlier, Max Verstappen set the pace in first practice as Willams endured another Friday to forget.

Reigning champion Verstappen retired in Melbourne a fortnight ago but was back at it here, his 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 halfway 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 Sargeant was forced to sit out of second practice – although the lack of running meant there was little that would have been gained from taking part.

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

“At the top of the brow of the hill there, he struggled to see where his positioning was on track. So it fundamentally looks like he didn’t quite realise where he was with where the grass was on the outside and put a wheel on the grass.”

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 Hamilton, while the second Ferrari of Leclerc was sixth.

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    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.

  • Verstappen beats Norris to claim fourth Spanish Grand Prix win Verstappen beats Norris to claim fourth Spanish Grand Prix win

    Max Verstappen claimed his fourth Spanish Grand Prix triumph in Barcelona as he continues to increase his lead at the summit of the F1 driver's championship. 

    Having started second on the grid after Lando Norris snatched pole position from his grasp on the last lap of qualifying, the three-time world champion wasted no time in overtaking the McClaren driver. 

    However, George Russell raced around the outside to take the lead in the race going into the first corner, having started fourth on the grid. 

    But it would not take long for the Dutchman to reclaim the position he has found himself in for much of the season, performing an exceptional overtake on Russell before remaining in control of the race throughout, despite Norris' late charge.

    Lewis Hamilton would come home in third for Mercedes, claiming his first podium of the season, with team-mate Russell eventually finishing fourth, closing the gap to both McClaren and Ferrari in the constructors' championship. 

    Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz had yet another disappointing afternoon on the track, while Verstappen's team-mate Sergio Perez picked up four points, having finished in eighth place, despite starting the race in 11th after being handed a three-place grid penalty from the Canada Grand Prix. 

    Final standings

    1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull)

    2. Lando Norris (McLaren)

    3. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)

    4. George Russell (Mercedes)

    5. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari)

    6. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari)

    7. Oscar Piastri (McLaren)

    8. Sergio Perez (Red Bull)

    9. Pierre Gasly (Alpine)

    10. Esteban Ocon (Alpine)

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