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Japanese Grand Prix 2023

Winners and Losers from 2023 F1 Japanese Grand Prix qualifying

A white-hot return to form, a coming of age, alarm bells and time fast running out. It is the Winners and Losers from the 2023 Japanese Grand Prix.

Verstappen Piastri Norris Japan
To news overview © XPBimages

More often than not, in the dominant Mercedes era, after struggling in Singapore, the team would head to Japan and hand out a walloping at Suzuka.

For Mercedes, now Red Bull, but Max Verstappen is on course to deliver an absolute thumping to the field akin to those handed out by Lewis Hamilton here in 2017 and 2018.

But in the non-Verstappen class, it was a thrilling battle as one of the brightest young prospects to graduate to F1 added another feather to his cap while a fellow rookie's chances of a sophomore year took a huge dent.

We start the Winners and Losers from 2023 F1 Japanese Grand Prix qualifying with pole-sitter, Verstappen.

Winner - Max Verstappen

Rarely, if ever, can a driver be as nailed on for a Grand Chelem as Verstappen is in the Japanese GP.

If he makes out of Turn 1 in one piece and with all four wheels pointing the same way, he will disappear up the Suzuka road and that will be that, in terms of the race win.

It has been a supreme display of dominance, even as if he has taken defeat in Singapore extremely personally and is on a revenge mission.

His pole lap was a thing of beauty for a driver, who despite the trouble in Singapore was a serious victory threat, with that only being extinguished thanks to the timing of the Safety Car.

He cannot win the title in Japan with the best he can hope for being a 177 point lead with 180 left on the board after the 53 laps, and its not over until the fat lady sings. But she's been clearing her throat for months, and is just about to hit the highest note.

This is pure, raw, unfiltered Verstappen at his stunningly destructive best. It is rare to see such high levels in elite sport.

What did Verstappen say?

"We had a bad weekend in Singapore, but I felt from the preparation we had that this was going to be a good track, but of course you never really know how good it is going to be, but from lap one, [the car has] been really nice."

			© XPBimages
	© XPBimages

Loser - Sergio Perez

Like Rubens Barrichello and Valtteri Bottas before him, Sergio Perez has the unfortunate position of being team-mate to the guy who is regarded as the 'man to beat' of his era.

Of the trio, Bottas was the most likely to pull out a good weekend to out-qualify his team-mate, Lewis Hamilton, and perhaps nab the win, but just could not do it consistently.

Bottas would always be close-ish to Hamilton in qualifying and beat him about a one-third of the time. This made his Sunday's a whole lot easier than Perez has been doing of late.

The simple fact of the matter is this: Perez cannot use the excuse of not being able to set the car up properly for his poor performances.

The RB19 has not been fully unleashed this season, and is a better race car than qualifying one, but its absolute raw pace is known as Verstappen will usually find it. Perez has to do a better job of being closer to Verstappen more often.

Seven-tenths of a second, in equal machinery on the same track in same conditions in a healthy car is a chasm that the McLaren duo and Charles Leclerc gladly inserted themselves into.

It is simply not acceptable for Perez to be so far behind Verstappen - even if he has assumed Hamilton's crown as 'man to beat'.

What did Perez say?

"Using that second set [of tyres] in Q2 was not ideal and that put us on the back-foot to McLaren, mainly by not having a set of new tyres [in Q3]."

			© Red Bull Content Pool
	© Red Bull Content Pool

Winner - Oscar Piastri

Coming to one of the most fearsome tracks in the world for the first time in F1 and out-qualifying of the elites on the grid is a good day's work for Oscar Piastri.

Armed with a fresh three-year deal in his back-pocket, the Australian promptly won the 'non-Verstappen class', ending 0.581s down on the Red Bull.

But he was less than a tenth ahead of Lando Norris in the sister MCL60 and Charles Leclerc in the Ferrari.

Let us not forget, this is also his first weekend with the latest raft of upgrades. It is about a strong a performance as is possible, and surely a richly deserved maiden F1 podium finish is his in the race.

What did Piastri say?

"It'll be cool because there's only one car I have to overtake, so I will try to make that happen..."

			© XPBimages
	© XPBimages

Loser - Mercedes

If you want an example of just how far Mercedes' fortunes have changed in recent years - look no further than Singapore and Japan.

Back in the dominant run, the Brackley cars were crushing at fast-flowing circuits like Suzuka or Silverstone and would tend to struggle at the slow-speed circuits such as Marina Bay or Monaco.

The W14 does not like a mixture of corners either, so is better on completely fast corners or medium or slow ones, but difficult to tune to tracks with fast-sweepers, chicanes, and hairpins.

Mercedes is decidedly fourth-best at Suzuka, evidenced by Lewis Hamilton being seventh and George Russell eighth on the grid - always a good indicator of the potential of a package when team-mates lie astern.

Both drivers warned the team about the fact that the high-speed rear-instability has not been fixed since Silverstone first identified it.

If Mercedes cannot rectify this weakness over the winter for the W15, it can forget catching Red Bull in 2024 or 2025 as it will be spending all of 2024 trying to catch up.

What is even-more worrying is the fact that Aston Martin and McLaren - both teams this behemoth should easily be beating have both been able to make giant leaps forward this season - in McLaren's case twice. Mercedes' chipping away isn't enough. Solutions need to be found - and quickly.

What did Hamilton say?

"We're a long way away on rear downforce, so that's why we're so slow in the first sector. But the laps felt really good, it's just within one second away, it's crazy. To close that gap for next year and at this point still be a second down like this is definitely worrying for us as a team."

			© RN365/Michael Potts
	© RN365/Michael Potts

Winner - Yuki Tsunoda

It's been a pretty good few days for Yuki Tsunoda.

Firstly, the rumoured loss of his race seat to spend 2024 as a third Red Bull driver did not materialise as AlphaTauri elected to keep him on for a fourth-season.

Secondly, sizeable AT04 upgrades are finally beginning to bring the car into a midfield contender with the possibility of making Q3.

And finally, he delivered that Q3 slot, with team-mate Liam Lawson missing out, on both a full-time 2024 seat, and a top 10 place.

2024 effectively starts here for Tsunoda, who must now kick on the car is capable of better results having been performing at his best when the car was at its worst earlier in the year.

Points in front of his adoring home crowd at Suzuka would be a fine way to start.

What did Tsunoda say?

"Definitely happy. It's just incredible, especially getting through to Q3 in [my] home Grand Prix. We struggled in the practice sessions, so the team did a good job and very good job by them. The car was great and looking forward to the race."

			© XPBimages
	© XPBimages

Loser - Logan Sargeant

The mid-season bump in Logan Sargeant's performances around the time of Austria and Britain has now been replaced by the feeling he is in a spiral - that is only going to end one way.

Instead of progressing after that increase mid-season, he is regressing. At this stage, you should be showing why you deserve a seat for next season, not merely trying to save it.

He did well to make Q3 at Zandvoort in the tricky conditions before crashing while the incident in the race does not go against him as the car suffered a hydraulic failure.

In Singapore, the move to hit the wall was clumsy, but dropping the car through the final corner at Suzuka is poor. It is not as egregious as Robert Kubica's similar move in 2019, but bad nonetheless.

The Williams is usually a midfield contender these days, and Alex Albon lines up 13th. If you were to remove Albon from the situation and observe the FW45, Sargeant would not be doing it credit.

With the rise of Lawson who missed out on the AlphaTauri seat, Sargeant now faces a real threat to his 2024 race seat chances. Williams can't afford to be romantic and keep the graduate of the Driver Academy. Unless Sargeant arrests this slide, he will not be on the grid in Bahrain next March.

			© XPBimages
	© XPBimages

F1 2023 Japanese Grand Prix RN365 News dossier

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