Japanese GP Preview: Will Red Bull reassert their dominance?

After fifteen consecutive victories this year, Red Bull arrives at the Japanese GP eager to disprove suggestions they have been impacted by the FIA’s recent technical directive. The team denies it, but doubts remain amongst experts.

There will be some answers to this question at a circuit well-suited to Adrian Newey’s car, where Max Verstappen could again dominate. In the meantime, Friday will feature a test by Pirelli in preparation for 2024, which will provide each driver with two additional sets of new specification C2 compound tyres.

These will be tested in both Friday practice sessions to collect data for next season. Later in the year, the next C4 ‘compound’ will be tested in Mexico, again in preparation for the 2024 campaign.

Ferrari arrives in Japan having celebrated its first victory of the season and, more importantly, the race post-technical directive. The Suzuka circuit is one of the toughest on paper for the SF-23.

The team’s recent progress in understanding the car, alongside the new floor to be introduced this weekend, must prove effective.

On the other hand, both Mercedes and McLaren arrive at a circuit rather favourable to the characteristics of their single-seaters, having impressed in Singapore. Aston Martin increasingly remains an unknown, relatively uncompetitive in Monza and Singapore after an encouraging Zandvoort.

Japanese GP: Ferrari seeks confirmation of progress. The aim is to get closer to Mercedes and McLaren

The historic Japanese track offers a variety of low, medium and high-speed corners. The hairpin at the middle sector and the famous last chicane will be driven at speeds below 100 km/h; between the first and second sectors, there are also many medium-speed corners.

However, the fastest sections of the circuit are divided between the Spoon and the well-known 130R. The similarities with Silverstone are clear. It was in Britain that Verstappen claimed victory over Norris and Hamilton.

The SF-23 defended itself and, despite finishing P9 and P10, had similar pace to Mercedes. After six races of developments, understanding the cars and technical directives, it will be possible to draw conclusions on the evolution teams have made in last three months.

The topic of interest of the weekend will be, as anticipated, to understand if and to what extent the modification of the TD18 and TD39 has affected the dominance of Red Bull and Max Verstappen.

In the last stint of the Grand Prix in Singapore, with the same compound as the Mercedes of Hamilton and Russell, the Dutch champion was six-tenths slower than Hamilton’s W14.

However, for most of these laps, he was not at the limit, showing positive pace in the final laps as he chased the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc.

Singapore has always been a tough hunting ground for dominant cars, such as the W10 (2019) and W06 (2015). Several set-up issues over the course of the weekend suggest that Red Bull’s problems arose from the preparation of the weekend.

Further back, Aston Martin chases scattered certainties. The AMR23 continues to suffer in medium and high-speed corners – before the Canada updates, it was the only team that could challenge Red Bull.

In Japan, more will be understood regarding Aston’s updates. A comparison can be made with Silverstone, where Aston suffered a lot

The AMR23 will be equipped with some upgrades, while Mercedes will bring their improvements to Austin.

The Williams FW45 could do very well at Suzuka, a track where efficiency partly counts. Suzuka also has very few low-speed corners where Albon and Sargeant’s cars tend to lose time.

Together with Alpine, power and ERS management permitting, they could fight at the lower end of the points. Teams like Alfa Romeo could be penalized for poor efficiency, but for both the C43 and the AlphaTauri AT04, Suzuka will be a test for their latest updates.

Tyre management will be important at a circuit demanding strong lateral and vertical loads during the single lap – and even more so during the race. The abrasive asphalt will also have a strong influence on the weekend, which is why Pirelli has chosen to bring the hardest C1, C2 and C3 compounds to the track.

The weather forecast predicts the possibility of rain on Friday, possibly ruining Pirelli’s plans for testing for 2024, while Saturday and Sunday should be dry days and, what’s more, with rather high temperatures close to 30°C.

The winning strategy in the last dry Japanese GP (back in 2019) was a two-stop race, using the two softest compounds brought by Pirelli.

Japanese GP updates: Ferrari introduces the last new floor of 2023, Piastri extends contract with McLaren and receives the Singapore updates

The recent positive performances at Ferrari on two favourable circuits for the SF-23 have confirmed the progress made thanks to the study of negative weekends – such as Zandvoort.

The green light has arrived for the introduction of a new floor – the last big update of the season for the Prancing Horse. Wide-ranging medium and high-speed corners are present in Japan, a recipe that often didn’t mix well for Ferrari – largely due to unpredictability and instability.

Prior to Japanese GP, Oscar Piastri’s contract renewal was announced. The McLaren rookie will stay in Woking until 2026, having shown consistent growth this year – especially since the summer.

The Australian continues to improve his laptimes in Qualifying, but the potential is there. Piastri’s pace relative to Lando Norris is proof of this.

The number 81 will receive the large update package that arrived in his teammate’s car last week, as he continues the search for a first career podium.

Author: Andrea Vergani

Translation: Jaden Diaz-Ndisang