The first day of the 2023 F1 Japanese GP ended with Max Verstappen on top of the standings. The driver has come to Japan after experiencing his first loss in 10 races and is quietly confident about what his team could expect this weekend.
Well, the very first day surely showed positive signs for what's in store for everyone else. Red Bull have not really been the benchmark car every time this season.
As a matter of fact, if we look back at the last five races, Verstappen has started on pole only once, in Zandvoort. So, how does the qualifying session pan out this time? Let's take a look at five predictions.
#1 Max Verstappen to secure pole at 2023 Japanese GP
This is Max Verstappen's weekend, isn't it? The driver looks focused and has the car to dominate, and that's exactly what he's doing right now.
The very first lap that Verstappen did at the Japanese GP FP1 was almost two seconds quicker than anybody else. Why? To make a statement. The driver did not like losing the race in Singapore and was eager to stamp his authority over the rest of the grid.
In the process, the first step for him is securing pole position at the Japanese GP. That's the aim for the Red Bull driver, and it's difficult to see him losing out when he's this focussed.
#2 Ferrari and McLaren to remain the key challengers
While race pace continues to be a question mark, qualifying form certainly isn't. Looking at the lap times both Ferrari and McLaren put together on Friday, expect them to chompi at the bits behind Red Bull's Max Verstappen.
#3 Lewis Hamilton to get outqualified by George Russell again
Hamilton has himself claimed this weekend that his qualifying has not been great in the last couple of years.
The Mercedes driver went on a very impressive run after the mega upgrade was introduced in Monaco. Before the summer break, it was an easy call to say that he was the quicker driver in the German team.
Since the summer break, though, that has changed, as Russell has started to look more comfortable while Hamilton has struggled. This weekend as well, Hamilton looked all at sea while Russell seemed to hold the edge.
At the Japanese GP, expect Russell to get one better on his teammate.
#4 Neither Lance Stroll nor the two Alpine drivers could make it to Q3
Aston Martin seem to be in a better position compared to how they looked in Singaporem but it's a very tight field. As a result, every position is going to be earned the hard way.
That's where Stroll misses the bus yet again. He's around 3-4 tenths of a second slower than Alonso, and with the car not having a distinctive advantage, Stroll could struggle to make it to Q3.
For Alpine, it's just the fact that the car is not good enough to reach Q3. Esteban Ocon is going to rue that DNF in Singapore from P6, as the team is likely not going to find themselves in that position at the Japanese GP.
#5 Alex Albon to make it to Q3
Williams appear to have found the pace again at the Japanese GP, with the straight line efficiency working like a charm in S2 and S3.
While Albon did sound a bit cautious about the car's long-run pace, as the degradation was a bit too much, you can expect the team to fine-tune that a bit and be ready for Saturday.
Expect Albon to once again make the most of the car and reach Q3 at the Japanese GP.