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via Reuters

For a team that won 8 consecutive constructor’s championships and 7 driver’s championships, Mercedes has struggled a lot since the ground effect era kicked in. Despite being optimistic about their 2024 campaign after a decent second-place finish in the standings last season, the Silver Arrows are at best the 4th or 5th fastest team at the moment. And Lewis Hamilton seems to be struggling more than his teammate, George Russell.

It’s reminiscent of the 2022 season when Hamilton took the responsibility of running the majority of the setup experiments to extract performance from the W13. However, Hamilton seems to have finally found a sweet spot with his W15 as per his comments after the first practice session in Japan.

When Russell started outperforming his 7-time world champion teammate in 2022, many believed that Hamilton had finally found his match in Russell. However, it turned out that Hamilton had been running a lot of experiments to find a good setup for the car, which often left Hamilton with the wrong setup and a slow car on Sunday. However, when Mercedes came to terms with its zero pod concept in 2023, Hamilton was right on top of his teammate, beating him by a significant 59 points in the championship.

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Having ditched the zero-side pod concept, Mercedes is struggling again after a decent pre-season test for the Brackley squad. And Hamilton is back to experimenting in his side of the garage. However, after the first practice session in Japan, Lewis, for the first time in 2024 sounded confident with the setup of his car.

Speaking after the session Hamilton explained, “It was the best session we’ve had this year, the best the car has felt this year so far. So I felt really positive and excited. Given the difficult last few races we’ve had, great work has been done this last week and we just seem to have hit the ground a bit more in a sweeter spot.”

Meanwhile, Max Verstappen is back at the top of the timing sheets as Ferrari continues to impress.

How did the teams fare in Free Practice 1 in Japan?

After missing out on the race win in Australia, Verstappen came back strong and finished FP1 as the fastest man on the track, closely followed by his teammate Sergio Perez. Unfortunately, the session was red-flagged due to an accident involving Logan Sargeant from the Williams team. Sargeant lost control of his car and crashed into the barriers, giving his team a mega job to repair the car.

Carlos Sainz continued his form from the previous race in Australia by securing the third-fastest time. Following closely behind were the Mercedes pair of George Russell and Lewis Hamilton, with Charles Leclerc not far behind in the second Ferrari. The gap between Leclerc and Sainz was only three-tenths of a second. Fernando Alonso was the lead Aston Martin in the session, and the local boy, Yuki Tsunoda, managed to place his car between the McLarens of Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris, claiming a spot in the top 10 positions.

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Esteban Ocon brought home his Alpine in 11th while Alex Albon, who was still driving the original chassis from Sargeant came in behind the Frenchman. The Haas of Nico Hulkenberg came in at 13th almost 2 seconds slower than the leader after receiving a black-and-white flag for crossing the white line at the pit exit. Valtteri Bottas and Lance Stroll followed him to complete the top 15. Taking over Daniel Ricciardo’s Racing Bull seat for FP1, Ayumu Iwasa showcased his potential by finishing 16th in his maiden Formula 1 session.

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The bottom of the timesheets were occupied by Pierre Gasly, Zhou Guanyu, and Kevin Magnussen with Logan Sargeant dead last after having crashed early in the session.

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Will Max Verstappen get back to his winning ways in Japan? Share your predictions with us in the comments down below.

READ MORE: Ex-Ferrari Boss Declares Lewis Hamilton Out of His Peak After $20 Billion Boost to the Team: “He’s Not Getting Any Younger”

Written by

Veerendra Vikram Singh

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Veerendra Singh is a Motorsport writer at EssentiallySports who specializes in F1 coverage. Having followed the sport for more than 12 years, Veerendra excels in covering trend-setting articles and has covered Max Verstappen, Lewis Hamilton, Toto Wolff, and Charles Leclerc extensively during the 2023 F1 season. His Dale Earnhardt Jr post regarding the North Wilkesboro Speedway was shared by Save The Speedway Twitter account.
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Edited by

Harshita