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Other SportsJapanese Grand Prix 2024: Formula One race preview, how to watch and...

Japanese Grand Prix 2024: Formula One race preview, how to watch and predictions

The big story

Lightning struck twice for Max Verstappen – albeit with a considerable interval in between – when the reigning F1 world champion suffered his first retirement since 2022 in Melbourne – the same setting where his previous one had taken place.

Verstappen’s breezy victories in the first two races of 2024, in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, had led some to suspect the season would be another procession for him. It still could well be, but Ferrari’s tails will be up after burning brakes did for the frontrunner and Carlos Sainz capitalised to win in front of Charles Leclerc.

Four points now separate Leclerc from Verstappen and Ferrari from Red Bull in the standings, but the reigning constructors’ champions have no reason to lack confidence at the track where they secured the title for a second successive season in 2023.

Read our other Formula One news stories here:
Max Verstappen intends to see out Red Bull contract
Australian Grand Prix: Albon to take over Sargeant’s car after crash
Australian Grand Prix: Hamilton’s confidence in Mercedes car at all-time low

Sainz’s win was given a sensational edge by the fact that the Spaniard had been out while having his appendix removed 12 days earlier, and it also forced Leclerc to put on a brave face as his team-mate topped the standings for the third time since October at his expense.

Red Bull’s Sergio Perez, too, may be smarting a little after coming fifth in Melbourne, and McLaren would love at least a repeat of their performance in Japan in 2023, when Lando Norris claimed second place and Oscar Piastri came third.

Leclerc could only manage fourth on that occasion, with Lewis Hamilton fifth and Sainz sixth, finishing more than 50 seconds behind Verstappen.

“We saw already some signs on Saturday when things were not looking how they should have done,” said Verstappen.

“In hindsight you can say it was coming from the brake calliper, but we couldn’t find any fault with the car. In a way, when you have a fault with the build specification it’s a bit worse. We’ll move on and learn from it.”

Verstappen last went two races without victory in July 2022, when Sainz won the British Grand Prix and Leclerc won in Austria. In the context of Verstappen’s dominance, it would be something of a statement if either contender can stop him again.

The subplots

Alongside Hamilton’s respectable position, George Russell’s seventh-placed finish last time out in Japan must seem a distant memory to Mercedes right now.

Neither driver completed the Australian Grand Prix on a dismal weekend for the team which has left Mercedes on 26 points, 29 behind third-placed McLaren.

Hamilton, who set the track record in Japan in 2019, says he is optimistic, adding that there have been “small showings” of Mercedes’ car “feeling great”.

“Just driving this track is such an incredible experience,” said the Briton. “They do not make them like this anymore.”

Russell agrees. “The undulations and the cambered corners make this place really fun to drive,” he observed. “Those combinations just make Suzuka so special.”

Japanese driver Yuki Tsunoda is certain to be a crowd favourite and will be looking to improve on a 12th-placed finish last season, having taken his first points of 2024 by coming seventh in Australia, outscoring team-mate Daniel Ricciardo.

“When I came to Suzuka, I saw that Formula 1 drivers are very cool,” the RB driver told Formula One’s official site.

“It’s where I had the big dream to be a Formula 1 driver. Suzuka became special when I started driving there when I was 16, driving with Honda in Formula 4.

“It’s the track I’ve driven the most in the world – it’s an incredible track and a really special place for me.”

The track

Suzuka hosts the action unusually early this season, having been moved as part of an Asia-Oceania leg that also takes in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Australia and China.

A narrow figure-eight, the corners vary drastically in speed on C1, C2 and C3 tyres which are available for the first time since Bahrain.

The layout of the track and a notoriously high-speed opening tends to provide a stern all-round test, with teams often pitting several times.

What they said

Sainz on Suzuka:

“It’s my favourite track of the whole season. It’s got everything and demands the most from the car as well as from the driver.

“Personally, I find that tracks where you lose time if you cross the white lines are the best. That’s exactly what happens here and every mistake costs you dear, given that the barriers are very close.

“The first series of esses is marvellous, but honestly there’s not a single corner I don’t like. It’s a real driver’s track and I can’t wait to jump in the car and tackle it.”

Piastri on challenging Red Bull in Melbourne:

“We were a bit quicker than we expected. We could hang with the Ferraris and that was a positive surprise.

Max went out early and I was surprised [Perez] wasn’t a bit quicker, but … the fact that we were able to stay pretty close to Ferrari was a great sign, so I am excited for the future.”

Leclerc on Alonso’s penalty over a crash involving Russell in Australia:

“It’s something that we do as drivers – however, not to that extent. What Fernando did in Australia was too much and had to be penalised.”

When and how to watch

F1 fans in the UK will be able to watch every race of 2024 on Sky Sports F1 or via the Sky Go app. The full schedule for the remainder of the race weekend is as below.

Full schedule (all times UK)

Saturday 23rd March

03:30 – Practice Three

07:00 – Qualifying

Sunday 24th March

06:00 – Japanese Grand Prix

How to watch the Japanese Grand Prix: TV, streaming

Fans in the UK can watch the 2024 Japanese Grand Prix on Sky Sports F1. Here’s the channel’s schedule:

Friday: Practice 1 (03:30)

Practice 2 (07:00)

Saturday: Practice 3 (03:30)

Saturday: Qualifying 1 (07:00)

Qualifying 2 (07:22)

Qualifying 3 (07:45)

Sunday: Pit Lane Live (05:00)

Race (06:00)

Predictions

There is no ignoring form: Verstappen has taken pole and won comfortably in Japan in each of the last two seasons, and the man to catch can be backed to do both again, barring more unexpected misfortune.

Elsewhere, Ferrari’s new build is untested on this kind of track, and look out for Tsunoda, who will be buoyed by getting off the mark for the season in style and can translate his familiarity with Suzuka into another impressive result.

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