Ten and 57 thousandths: those are the minuscule gaps separating the two Scuderia Ferrari drivers from pole at the Suzuka Circuit. Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz will therefore start the Japanese Grand Prix from second and third on the grid, when the race gets underway tomorrow at 14 local (7 CEST). Charles will have Max Verstappen alongside him and Carlos shares the second row with Sergio Perez.
The team and drivers managed all three sessions well, saving a set of new Soft tyres for the race, by only using one in Q2. They both set very good times with used Softs so the decision was taken to stay in the garage, confident that they would make the cut to Q3. It turned out to be the right choice and that will give Charles and Carlos an extra advantage in the race at a track that is particularly demanding on tyres.
The Ferrari pair each had two sets of new Softs for this session. On their first run they were second and third fastest behind Verstappen. They both improved on their second run, getting very close to the pole time. Charles stopped the clocks in 1’29”314 and Carlos got down to 1’29”361.
A wet Friday meant that the third free practice session was the only one in which to set up the cars for the dry. No one managed much running on high fuel loads and so there are plenty of unknowns going into the race. The weather is one of them: the race is likely to start in the dry, but rain could arrive after an hour, which would mix up the order. The team and drivers will need to keep a cool head.
“The car felt good and it’s always great to drive on this track, especially in the first sector because it has so much grip. It’s a very fast lap, but the more you push in the first sector, the slower you are in the last due to the tyres overheating. I think it will be an interesting race. It will be a challenge for everyone to make the right calls with unpredictable weather ahead.”
“It was a good lap, clean all the way until the last chicane where a snap exiting the last corner cost me quite a bit of lap time. That was frustrating, but we’ll keep pushing. In general, the car felt good today and I’ve been comfortable with the balance all weekend. Tomorrow, we don’t know what the weather will be like, but we are aiming to get both cars up there again. We’ll give everything until the chequered flag!”
Laurent Mekies, Racing Director
“It was an extremely close qualifying session: we missed pole position by just one hundredth of a second with Charles and half a tenth with Carlos. It’s a shame as we know on this track pole is very important, however there were still a lot of positives for us today, as our car was very competitive with both drivers. Together with Max, they were in a league of their own on a track featuring all types of corners and that says a lot about the quality of their cars. So, we can be pleased with the performance of the F1-75, and we were also able to save one set of Soft tyres with both drivers in Q2. It’s a sign that all the work we have done in Maranello over the past few months is paying off, so a big thank you goes to everyone back at the factory. Yesterday the track was always wet, so today we had to start from zero. Both our drivers worked perfectly with the team and were able to get into a rhythm immediately, putting in some solid laps and improving progressively through the sessions all the way to Q3. Tomorrow it’s going to be a very long race with many aspects playing their part, starting with the weather. Tonight we will analyse all the data and prepare for every possible scenario. Max will be as usual super fast, but we will do our best to try and battle with him right from the first lap.”