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Japanese Grand Prix

Further takeaways from the 2024 Japanese Grand Prix

Whilst the Japanese Grand Prix wasn't full of chaos on track, there are still several takeaways to be aware of

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The Japanese Grand Prix saw Max Verstappen take his third victory in 2024, but looking down the grid, there are more things for F1 fans to ponder. 

Japanese Grand Prix
Race winner Max Verstappen, Second placed Sergio Perez and Third placed Carlos Sainz celebrate on the podium during the F1 Grand Prix of Japan. (Photo by Clive Rose – Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

This season has seen the Japanese Grand Prix take place significantly earlier in the year than usual. In 2023, Formula 1 raced around Suzuka for Round 16 of the year, which saw Red Bull win the Constructors’ Championship and McLaren prove they had turned their season around with a double podium.

However, for 2024, the 20 drivers took to Suzuka for Round Four. Having it earlier in the season means teams have less data than usual, especially with the Grand Prix having been dry and hot.

Despite that though, it does mean the Japanese Grand Prix acted as a barometer to give teams a better understanding of their winter development because it’s only been six months since we last raced at Suzuka.

And whilst it wasn’t a spectacular Japanese Grand Prix, like some we’ve seen in the past, there are still a lot of things to take away from the weekend.

Some include the impact of Williams’ performance with two crashes, one from each driver, as well as Sergio Perez performing how he needs to be performing. But there are additional takeaways to ponder.

So here are some things to think about following the 2024 Japanese Grand Prix.

Daniel Ricciardo needs to follow in his teammate’s footsteps

Yuki Tsunoda’s home race highlighted the support he has from the Japanese fans and despite admitting the extra pressure he felt, Tsunoda had the measure of his teammate, all weekend.

Tsunoda had a full three days of running compared to Daniel Ricciardo, who was on the back foot due to Ayumu Iwasa driving his car for FP1. But the thing to focus on when it comes to the Visa Cash App RB duo is the disparity between them.

Following the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, the general consensus was that Ricciardo needed to up his game.

However, after Qualifying around Suzuka, one would think Ricciardo is on an upward trajectory. The Australian driver got through to Q2 for the third time this season and qualified P11, his highest so far this season.

Tsunoda qualified P10, having bumped Ricciardo out of Q2, but in the second session, there was only a 0.055-second gap between the teammates.  Unfortunately for Ricciardo, his improved performance in Qualifying didn’t carry over to the race on Sunday.

The opening lap of the race saw a Red Flag brought out after Ricciardo and Williams’ Alex Albon collided and ended up in the barriers at Turn 2.

No penalty was given, but the stewards did admit that if it wasn’t for the policy of first-lap leniency, Ricciardo would have been penalised.

Tsunoda went on to have a strong race, scoring his first points at his home race. The young Japanese driver admitted that even though he scored one point, it felt like he “scored P1.”

The eight-time race winner has been unable to match his teammate when it really matters, costing the team some good points. Ricciardo’s hopes of getting a Red Bull seat are dwindling quickly, especially given Sergio Perez’s performance in Japan. But if he were to follow Tsunoda’s example, having clean weekends, Ricciardo could shed some of the negativity currently surrounding him.

Ferrari up and Mercedes down

Since the 2022 regulations came into effect, Mercedes have consistently struggled to produce a car capable of winning races and fighting at the front of the grid. Ferrari, whilst finishing behind Mercedes in the Constructors’ Championship last year, have been the victim of poor strategy over the years.

However, the Japanese Grand Prix told a different story.

Following Carlos Sainz’s win in Australia, Ferrari look to be carrying that momentum forward. Despite it being a Red Bull one-two, the two Ferraris finished just behind with Sainz on the podium.

Ferrari split their strategy with Sainz doing a two-stop race and Charles Leclerc completing a one-stop. Leclerc received Driver of the Day for extending his stint on the mediums and finishing three positions higher than he qualified.

Whilst Ferrari’s strategy provided strong results, Mercedes’ race left a lot to be desired.

The Silver Arrows are currently fourth in the standings, 86 points behind Ferrari. Melbourne was a low point for the team with both drivers retiring from the race – Lewis Hamilton having a power unit failure and George Russell crashing on the final lap.

But in Japan, their strategy ultimately cost them points.

Both drivers changed tyres under the red flag, switching onto hards from the mediums. However, their first stint was rather slow and their strategy of a one-stop wasn’t looking to be the best option as degradation occurred faster than they thought.

During the race, Hamilton called for the strategy to “change” because he was being overtaken and the team ultimately switched to a late two-stop.

Mercedes have struggled this season with getting the most out of their car and Japan proved that they don’t always choose the right strategy.

McLaren showed us a weakness

Much like Mercedes, McLaren’s strategy didn’t work out quite as they had planned.

Last year, Japan was a highlight of McLaren’s season. Both Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri finished on the podium, making it the team’s first double podium of the season.

Both drivers were looking forward to the Japanese Grand Prix but it soon became clear that McLaren’s main rivals were Mercedes and Aston Martin.

The Woking-based team failed to compete with Ferrari on pace and during the Grand Prix, Norris openly questioned McLaren’s strategy to pull him in early on lap 28 to follow Leclerc and to cover off Russell. Much like Sainz, Norris was then on a two-stop strategy but it made his final stint much longer.

Norris finished the race in P5 behind both Ferrari drivers. Afterwards, he admitted that it was “tough” because he had a good starting position in P3, but just fell “backwards”. Norris continued questioning McLaren’s decision to cover off Russell, saying:

“I’m kind of surprised we boxed as early as we did to be honest with you. Because that just put it in line with what Ferrari did, and we covered George [Russell] which I just didn’t think we maybe needed to do.”

However, despite their fall through the grid, both Norris and Piastri scored points, continuing McLaren’s record of scoring points in every round this season.

So, in short, the Japanese Grand Prix revealed the weaknesses of some teams but the strengths of others. There’s room to grow for a lot of constructors, and with China as the next round, it could be a rather exciting weekend, especially with the season’s first sprint race.

Headline image: GettyImages

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