The period of calm that characterized the initial five minutes of the session gave way to intense qualifying simulacra. Max Verstappen shone by logging a 1m30.267s lap and placing ahead of the McLarens. The latter had shown significant improvement compared to their performance against Red Bull‘s lead driver.
The initial phase of soft-tyre runs placed Verstappen at the top of the leaderboard with a 1m30.960s lap. However, this was slightly behind the previous day’s stellar performance, a change attributed to the rubber on the track surface being washed away by overnight rainfall.
The circuit was relatively quiet until the final 20 minutes except for some extended runs by the Ferraris. They took time to evaluate the further degradation on tyres already used in the first run. As the session approached its last third, many drivers changed to a fresh set of softs in anticipation of the upcoming qualifying rounds.
The McLarens raised the stakes with Oscar Piastri surpassing Verstappen by 0.4 seconds. Lando Norris then took charge by setting a 1m30.507s lap. Verstappen responded by not matching Norris’s inaugural sector time but, impressively, found an edge in the following splits over the Briton. This propelled him back to the front by 0.240s.
The high degradation levels limited the potential for faster follow-up laps because the best of the soft tyres were already utilized. This handed the session over to Verstappen who then excelled in all three practice circuits at Suzuka.
Sergio Perez‘s late entry earned him fourth place, but he was nearly half a second behind the leading trio. This was due to lost time in the initial two sectors vis-a-vis Verstappen.
The pair from Ferrari, comprising of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz, found their deficit against Verstappen widening. They ended the day lagging 0.755s and 0.870s behind the championship frontrunner respectively.
Hamilton seemed more at ease in his Mercedes following a challenging Friday. Despite this, he was 0.892s slower than Verstappen but managed to stay ahead of his team-mate, George Russell. Fernando Alonso brought his Aston Martin in ninth and Zhou Guanyu, with his Alfa Romeo, came at a close tenth which was impressive.