Saturday’s qualifying session for the Formula 1 2022 Japanese Grand Prix saw Red Bull’s Max Verstappen pip Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz in what turned out to be the closest qualifying session of the year.
For a second race running, the top three drivers were separated by less than a tenth of a second with Verstappen 0.010 of a second ahead of Leclerc and Sainz a further 0.047 of a second behind his teammate.
At the tail end of the top 10, Sebastian Vettel had a tremendous session on what he admits is his favorite track on the calendar. The German qualified ninth after making it into Q3 for the first time since the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
With qualifying done and dusted, the attention now turns to tomorrow’s race with the pit stop strategy now at the forefront of the minds of the drivers and teams.
What are Pirelli saying?
Given the demanding nature of the Suzuka race circuit, the Italian tyre company has opted to bring its hardest set of tyres to the venue, with the C1 serving as the hard tyres, the C2 the mediums, and the C3 as this weekend’s soft compound tyres.
This will be the final time the C1 tyres make an appearance this season, which underscores the taxing nature of the Japanese race track.
Given that the track has been absent from the calendar for the past two seasons, the lack of dry weather running, and the fact that a new generation of cars has been introduced this year, Pirelli have limited data to work with.
Nevertheless, the Italian predicts that the optimum strategy would be a two-stopper with the drivers starting on the soft compound tyres before switching to the mediums and back again to the soft for a charge to the finish.
Alternatively, drivers could also start on the soft compound C3 tyres before doing back-to-back stints on the medium compounds.
Pirelli also believes a one-stop strategy is an option, though based on their simulations this would be a slower alternative. Teams are suggested to start the race on either the medium or soft compound tyre before ultimately switching to the hard compound C1 tyres.
“There’s a roughly equal number of left and right corners in the unique figure of eight layout, which means that the circuit demands are evenly balanced,” Pirelli’s motorsport director Mario Isola stated.
“The sustained energy loads through the tyres are some of the highest we register all year, and the track layout means that we bring the three hardest compounds in our range because of the high levels of tyre duty.
“With the latest generation of cars being heavier than before and the limits of performance constantly being pushed, that challenge is bigger than ever now.”
Rain a possible variable
There is still no definitive reason to believe that tomorrow’s race could be run entirely in the dry.
While everyone at the venue is expecting rain, the exact time when the downpour will occur is anybody’s guess.
While the weather reports indicated that clouds would burst toward the end of the Grand Prix, the latest report indicates that the showers have advanced by two hours meaning that the race could be run in wet conditions much like last weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix.
Irrespective of the conditions a win for Verstappen would all but seal his title triumph in 2022. While the Dutchman had one of his worst results in 2022 on the Marina Bay Street Circuit in Singapore, the Red Bull driver should be the favorite for the win tomorrow.