The first day of running in the 2023 F1 Japanese GP is done and dusted and what we have in front of us is a familiar name at the top of the standings.
After a weekend of struggle in Singapore, Max Verstappen and Red Bull have dialed things back and dominated the first day.
It was more or less a straightforward day with both sessions not facing any disruptions. Pierre Gasly in his Alpine was a casualty, however, as he shunted off the track in the dying stages of the 2023 F1 Japanese GP FP2.
The session ended with Verstappen on top followed by Charles Leclerc in his Ferrari, three-tenths behind.
So after the first day of running in the 2023 F1 Japanese GP, what did we learn? Let's take a look.
2023 F1 Japanese GP FP1 and FP2: What did we learn?
#1 Max Verstappen is back with a vengeance
There's no other way to put it now, is it? The reigning champion smiled along in Singapore after the race as the car was just not good enough. This weekend, however, he has been quietly confident. Max Verstappen hasn't said much and has just been looking to get back to driving.
As it turns out, the Dutchman only needed a lap to get down to business as his very first lap put him close to two seconds quicker than everybody else. That was a statement if any that needed to be made.
Since that moment in FP1, the driver has been in a different league. We might see total domination from Verstappen this weekend as he looks to stamp his authority after the Singapore debacle.
#2 Ferrari and McLaren lead the chasing pack
McLaren was expected to do well here but it appears that Ferrari's straightline efficiency is helping the team stay in the hunt as well. The Italian team has a good car for the second and third sector and makes up for whatever time it loses in the first one.
The race pace is a question mark for both teams because the five-lap runs didn't show much divergence.
In all of this, one thing seems certain both McLaren and Ferrari are possibly the only teams that could get closer to Red Bull here. Especially with a question mark over both Mercedes and Aston Martin.
#3 Alpine is struggling while Williams is back in form
The fast-speed sections are just not working for Alpine once again as the car is just not in the window at the 2023 F1 Japanese GP.
Neither driver finished any of the sessions in the top 10 or even challenged for it. The car has fared better on track with slow-speed sections and it appears that's where the car might work better right now.
Williams, on the other hand, is back in form with Alex Albon finishing FP2 in the top 10. The driver was a bit iffy about the race pace and felt that the car might struggle but it does appear that the long straights are working for the team.
#4 Tire degradation seems to be a concern
The track layout for the 2023 F1 Japanese GP tends to be a headache more often than not for tire management. There are far too many zones where the tires truly get tested and the strain is massive.
This seems to be catching a few teams out this weekend as the tire degradation was a serious concern for a lot of teams.
This is something that is going to disadvantage teams like Haas even more as they continue to struggle with tire management in general.
#5 Mercedes is a bit of a wildcard
It's hard to put a pin on where Mercedes finds itself at the 2023 F1 Japanese GP. If we look at George Russell's times then the car appears to be there or thereabouts.
If we do, however, look at Lewis Hamilton then it certainly looks concerning. What was interesting to see on Russell's lap as well was how he lost six-tenths of a second in the first sector alone and after that, he didn't lose too much time.
Mercedes tends to get better on Saturdays. Their growth curve indicates that as well. The team is a bit of a wildcard right now and it's hard to pin where it will be come 2023 F1 Japanese GP qualifying.