Japan will show Red Bull have not been affected by technical directive

Here are the key talking points ahead of the 2023 Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka

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It will take quite something for the 2023 Japanese Grand Prix to live up to the four-way duel that took place on the streets of Singapore as Red Bull failed to win for the first time this year.

Was it the beginning of the end for Red Bull? In short, no. Normality should resume at Suzuka and Red Bull will be back on top, at least on paper that’s the case.

Talk of the technical directive to clamp down on flexi-floors hurting Red Bull is probably more hope than reality. The perfect storm of ingredients led to Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez‘s Q2 exit, including the track layout, conditions and major setup problems.

Suzuka is a more conventional circuit, so watch out for a Red Bull team looking for revenge, on a weekend they could become constructors’ champions.

Why Red Bull will be back on top

It’s not unusual for a dominant team to turn up to Singapore and simply struggle. Mercedes often found that was the case even during their strongest years.

Take a look at 2015 as an example when the only occasion they didn’t have a driver on the podium was in Singapore that year. It’s highly likely it will be the case with Red Bull this season.

The short radius corners, not getting the tyres into the right window and going the wrong way on setup contributed to one of the biggest downfalls F1 has ever seen.

Sergio Perez in action during the 2023 Singapore GP | Mark Thompson / Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

If the technical directive has had an impact, we will see at Suzuka. Don’t expect it though and if Red Bull are not outscored by Mercedes and Ferrari don’t take 24 points out of them, they will be constructors’ champions on Sunday.

“We still don’t understand fully what went wrong, or what went so wrong in Singapore,” said Perez. “We have some ideas, but certainly this track is very different. So, there should not be a reason why not to be strong in Suzuka. Actually, they should be one of the best circuits for us.

“We obviously have some good ideas on how we prepared the weekend and the misinformation we have, and where things got wrong. But obviously, it’s something that we will keep internally, but there’s some good indications that we probably approach the weekend with the wrong setup.”

McLaren should be fast

McLaren have done a sensational job with their upgrades this year, making them work straight away and not having to bed them in. This is something that should be lauded.

Lando Norris had the new package in Singapore and Oscar Piastri will have the new toys to play with in Japan this weekend.

Suzuka is similar in its high-speed nature to Silverstone and Spa-Francorchamps, where McLaren were very strong. Piastri, who signed a contract extension until 2026, ahead of Suzuka will have a great chance of a maiden F1 podium.

Norris is only 12 points away from George Russell in the drivers’ championship and expects to be in another big fight behind Red Bull.

“I don’t think we’re confident in saying we’re as quick as Red Bull,” said Norris. “I think Red Bull will probably be dominant this weekend.

“But I think comparing us to Ferrari and Mercedes then Mercedes have been just a lot more consistent than what we have. We still fluctuate quite a bit. On a good weekend we can be very, very good and maybe a little bit ahead, like we’ve seen in Silverstone and things like that.

“On the whole Mercedes have probably been the second best car this season, then Ferrari and then then us so far. We’re getting there. It’s still a very different circuit to Singapore with these upgrades. So there’s all things for us to find out and analyse from Suzuka.”

Lando Norris celebrates second place at the 2023 Singapore GP | McLaren F1 Team

Hamilton needs to sort out qualifying

Lewis Hamilton admitted qualifying has been a problem for him and cost him a bigger chance of winning in Singapore.

Although overtaking is a bit easier at Suzuka, it’s still very difficult to make a move due to the tight nature of the circuit and how hard it is to follow the car in front through the Esses.

Therefore, qualifying is vital but Hamilton isn’t anticipating Mercedes to be as competitive this weekend.

“I would think that, if they [Red Bull] are not 30 seconds ahead, like they have done in the past then something’s up!” acclaimed Hamilton.

“But no, I think that as Checo said, it was obviously a difficult weekend, the last one, but their car should be phenomenal here. They’ve been phenomenal all year long. They’ve aced pretty much every circuit.

Lewis Hamilton in action at the 2023 Singapore GP | Mercedes / Jiri Krenek

“It’s going be great to watch that car in general. Normally, you would come here and it’s beautiful to watch the laps that they do, because the whole team as a whole and the drivers are doing an amazing job with the package they have.

“So, it’ll be interesting to see how the weekend goes. I hope that we are closer and I hope they’re not as fast as that 30-second gap they’ve had in the past.”

Ferrari on form

Ferrari will be a big threat in qualifying as Charles Leclerc narrowly missed out on pole position at the Japanese GP in 2022 by 0.010s to Verstappen and the Scuderia come into the weekend high on confidence.

Carlos Sainz is driving beautifully, so Leclerc must hit back at some point as he’s widely seen as the more highly rated driver.

It will be interesting to see if Ferrari return to using Friday practice as testing time for 2024, after using Zandvoort as a weekend to focus on longer term developments.

“One thing that we did find for sure, since Zandvoort, is at least we have a good understanding of our car now,” said Leclerc.

Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc during practice at 2023 Dutch GP | Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

“I think in Zandvoort we did quite a lot of tests and it’s been super useful for the whole team in the two or three weekends after that, in order to understand a bit more of our package and that is crucial for the future developments especially.

“Then for the short term, I don’t think that will help us to basically fight for wins all the time but at least we’ll be able to maximise a bit more our package which shall be good.

“It’s only a few hundredths with the Mercedes and McLaren so we need to be on top of our game every weekend.”

What about the rest?

AlphaTauri scored points courtesy of a very impressive Liam Lawson in Singapore and the New Zealander has already driven at Suzuka this year.

Yuki Tsunoda is on home soil and needs to show something in order to secure a seat for 2024 because Lawson is making a big impression. Things could get feisty between these two on the track on Sunday.

Kevin Magnussen says he never fought so hard to score a point on his way to 10th in Singapore but Haas will be further back in the pecking order due to the higher-speed corners at Suzuka.

Alfa Romeo make may a step forward if their upgrades from last weekend have paid off, while Williams should be in the battle for points too.

There are question marks over Alpine‘s rollercoaster season, so who knows what car Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon will have under them. It will be a fight for them, that’s for sure.

John Smith
John Smithhttps://total-motorsport.com
Editor at Total-Motorsport.com and all round Motorsport journalist specialising in Formula 1, IndyCar and Formula E.
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