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Formula 1 - Motorsport: What we learned from practice at the Japanese GP

As had been expected, the first Japanese Grand Prix weekend since 2019 got off to a soggy start with both Friday practices taking place on a wet track.

Fernando Alonso headed the earlier session for Alpine before George Russell and Lewis Hamilton made it a Mercedes 1-2 in the afternoon.

However, any data the teams gathered on Friday will be of limited use for the rest of the weekend, with a dry day forecast for Saturday and windy, mixed conditions on race day.

Verstappen looking to wrap up second title

WhatJapanese Grand Prix, Qualifying
WhereSuzuka Circuit, Suzuka City
When07:00-08:00, Saturday 8th October 2022
How to watchSky Sports
OddsFastest qualifier: Charles Leclerc 5/4, Max Verstappen 5/4, Carlos Sainz 15/2, Sergio Perez 8/1, Lewis Hamilton 10/1

Max Verstappen had a dreadful weekend in Singapore last time out in a race which, if everything had gone his way, could have seen him clinch his second world drivers' championship.

That was surely only a blip though, and the Red Bull driver made a solid start to his running in Japan. Verstappen was sixth in the morning session despite completing only four laps, while he was third in the afternoon having put 24 laps on the board.

Even more encouragingly, the Red Bull looked in the best shape of any car when conducting race simulations.

In order to be crowned champion on Sunday, Verstappen must score eight more points than Ferrari's Charles Leclerc and six more points than Singapore winner Sergio Perez. Winning the race and claiming the bonus point for fastest lap would be enough for Verstappen to achieve that, no matter how his rivals fare.

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Saturday morning will be busy

With no dry running under their belts and no meaningful data about how the 2022 cars behave at the unconventional figure-eight Suzuka circuit, expect Saturday morning's final practice to be a busy one.

Everyone will be keen to get as much running as possible on the dry track to prepare for qualifying.

Suzuka isn't the hardest track for overtaking, but it is certainly somewhere you don't want to be starting out of position. Three of the last four winners of the Japanese Grand Prix started from pole position, and while Valtteri Bottas was victorious from third on the grid in 2019, he took the lead on the run to the first corner.

Hamilton sounds a note of caution

Mercedes have made a bit of a habit of excelling in practice only to disappoint in the sessions that count.

Hamilton missed out on a first pole position of the season in Singapore last time by just 0.05 seconds, but in the damp race he was unable to get his tyres up to their proper working temperature.

That was less of an issue in practice at Suzuka, where the long sweeping curves work the tyres harder, but the seven-time world champion said afterwards that he expects Red Bull and Ferrari to overhaul them in dry conditions.

Hamilton has won at least one race every year in a career that started in 2007 but he has drawn a blank so far in 2022.

Alpine hoping early form is a good omen

It would be wrong to read much into Alonso going fastest in the first session considering track conditions were constantly changing as the rain at first eased off before intensifying again.

But Alpine will be desperate to find positives after a nightmare weekend in Singapore. Both Alonso and team-mate Esteban Ocon retired with mechanical issues last week - the second race in succession where Alonso's car broke down after starting the race in the top six.

To compound matters, McLaren scooped a hefty haul of points at Marina Bay after finishing fourth and fifth, and they leapfrogged Alpine into the very lucrative fourth place in the constructors' standings. The French team trail by only four points but neither driver has scored in the last two races.

More frustration for Schumacher

Mick Schumacher's Formula 1 future is still unclear, and he did himself no favours by crashing heavily at the end of the first practice hour.

The German aquaplaned off the track after the chequered flag had been shown and ploughed into the barriers. Schumacher was unhurt but his Haas was so badly damaged that he was unable to run at all in the afternoon session. Schumacher has managed only two top-ten finishes this season.

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