Lawson endures ‘tricky’ opening day in Suzuka
By Mat Coch
Friday 22nd September, 2023 - 8:26pm
Liam Lawson described his Friday in Suzuka as “tricky” as he ramps up for Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix.
The event marks Lawson’s fourth grand prix start and only his third full weekend.
Suzuka is a circuit with which he’s familiar, having raced to fourth at the venue when Super Formula visited in April.
The Japanese open-wheel category, in which the Kiwi sits second in the championship, boasts performance almost on par with Formula 1.
It offers a degree of familiarity, unlike what he had in Singapore a week ago, despite having never driven at the circuit in F1 machinery.
“I think it helps for sure, especially early in the weekends,” Lawson said of his Super Formula knowledge.
“This part of the weekend especially we can spend a bit more time focused on car performance.
“By quali and by the race, I think in Formula 1, you have enough time to really learn everything.
“A more traditional circuit here as well,” he added, “but so far it’s been a bit of a tricky day.”
Scuderia AlphaTauri introduced a sweeping upgrade package in Singapore.
Primarily centred on aerodynamic performance, it offered limited gains in Marina Bay but was expected to come into its own this weekend.
In the opening hour of practice, that appeared to be the case.
Lawson was ninth fastest and his Scuderia AlphaTauri team-mate, Yuki Tsunoda, was fifth.
However, both went backwards both in terms of where they ended in the pecking order and in terms of lap time versus the front of the pack.
In Free Practice 1, Lawson was 1.358s away from the best lap Max Verstappen could muster.
For Free Practice 2, he’d fallen to only 15th fastest, more than 1.453s away from the session’s best.
“Obviously P2 wasn’t a super strong session for us but I think also, as I said before the weekend, it probably takes a bit of time to really maximise the change,” Lawson said of the day’s performance.
“We need to learn exactly where we can improve on it. But a little bit tricky so far.”
While Lawson dropped around 0.1s in the day’s second 60-minute outing, Tsunoda’s pace fell off even more dramatically.
The local favourite was 0.950s down in opening practice, that delta increasing to 1.490s in Free Practice 2 as he ended the day only 18th best.
Like his team-mate, Tsunoda suggested the benefit of the upgrade package was difficult to discern.
“It’s hard to say because so far it’s not really competitive,” he observed.
“We have to look through it; either downforce level we chose was not really right… But we have to see.
“So far it’s not really competitive.”