Who doesn't love an F1 double-header? As the sport crests the wave of relief after Red Bull's defeat in Singapore, where better to bask in the anticipation and excitement than super Suzuka?
Last year's Japanese Grand Prix was heavily weather-disrupted with a Friday washout and Sunday half-race mired in controversy, so in many ways this feels like Suzuka's true return to the calendar, with three dry days forecast and an increasingly competitive grid. Hopefully we see an event worthy of such a great track.
Red Bull's speed, Ferrari's resurgence, McLaren's upgrades, Tsunoda's home race... there's plenty on the menu for Round 16 of the 2023 FIA Formula One World Championship!
Judgement for Japan
Red Bull and Verstappen will be licking their wounds after their tremendous win streaks ended at 16 and 10, respectively. Thankfully, Suzuka's smooth surface and sweeping layout should see a return to form, albeit with a few doubts looming after the recent technical directive. Verstappen can't win the drivers' title this weekend, but the team can take the constructors', so long as they outscore Mercedes by any amount, and aren't outscored to the tune of 24pts by Ferrari.
Mercedes will likely be joining Red Bull in misery corner after failing to capitalise on the rare chance for victory in Singapore. Last year's race was a frustrating affair, carrying a barn-door rear wing unsuited to Suzuka's demands. This year should allow the team to attack the track with a better package, but it's unlikely Red Bull will slip up two weekends in succession. Russell will need to mend his broken heart quickly to keep up with the action.
After missing out at Monza, Ferrari came good in Singapore to break the streak and really build some momentum ahead of the Japan. A rumoured new floor arrives this weekend, with all eyes on qualifying after missing out on pole last year by 0.01s. Underlying race pace fears will likely be exposed this weekend, but there's still points and podiums to be had, with only a 24pt gap to Mercedes in the WCC.
Despite such a bright start to the year, all of the hope and goodwill finally came crashing down for Aston Martin in Singapore. The car pace has evaporated, and they're now on the defensive from a charging McLaren. Alonso has lost 3rd in the WDC and is unlikely to wrestle it back. To make matters worse, Suzuka is unlikely to suit them either. The only positive it seems is Stroll's renewed commitment to impress his father.
Outside of Red Bull's domination, the biggest story of 2023 for me has been McLaren's revival, underlined again thanks to Norris' podium in Singapore. Both cars will run the full upgrade package this week, with a track layout not too dissimilar to Silverstone giving reason for great optimism. Pole? Double podium? Let's wait and see just how quick they are.
Elsewhere, Alpine's topsy-turvy year continued with Ocon retiring from a solid points finish, only to be saved by Gasly inheriting the lost points. The Singapore upgrades seemed to work, giving confidence for Suzuka. Williams will also be curious to see if they can repeat the surprise pace they showed at Silverstone and Zandvoort, with their strong straight line speed and benign car balance delivering ample lap-time.
A rare but welcome point for Haas and Magnussen was just rewards after a tricky year, but they will be daunted by Suzuka's high tyre degradation. Conversely, Alfa Romeo will be encouraged and may be able to put their own upgrades to better use after being stunted in Singapore.
Finally, Tsunoda races at home for the second time, with a hint of expectation on his shoulders. The upgraded Alpha Tauri was quick in Singapore, as shown by the ever-improving and impressive Liam Lawson, who has already raced at Suzuka this year in Super Formula.
Tyres and Weather
It's the C1-2-3 for the fifth time this year, as Suzuka's heavy tyre demands are set to be a key point for the weekend. Each driver has two sets of 2024 C2 tyres to test across FP1 and 2, so expect plenty of running. Tyre pressures unchanged from 2022, albeit there was little data to use anyway! Likely a two-stop on Sunday considering the high temperatures.
Fri - dry, 28C/82F, cloudy
Sat - dry, 29C/84F, sunny
Sun - dry, 27C/81F, sunny
Set your alarms!
BST CEST FP1 0330 0430 FP2 0700 0800 FP3 0330 0430 Q 0700 0800 R 0600 0700
BMW&Mini Racing and Porsche Carrera Cup Japan supporting, full schedule.
Thoughts, predictions, Japanese fan creations, ferris wheel pictures, bee-related puns and everything else welcome below