Championship leader Max Verstappen arrived in Suzuka, Japan, this week for the 2023 Japanese Grand Prix with redemption on his mind. Coming off an uncharacteristically disappointing performance in Singapore, where both he and teammate Sergio Perez failed to make it through to Q3 in the qualifying rounds, Verstappen is seeking a strong comeback.
In Singapore, the Dutch driver fought his way back to finish in fifth place after starting 11th on the grid, while Perez claimed the eighth position from 13th. The hiccup in Singapore was particularly surprising given Red Bull's previous unbroken streak—having clinched victories in the first 14 races of the season.
When asked if he expected a return to Red Bull’s dominant form in the upcoming Japanese Grand Prix, Verstappen seemed optimistic but cautious. “I mean, Singapore is so different from what we will experience here in terms of the way you set up the car, so I’m also not worried that a weekend like that will upset our weekend here," he stated. "It was not our strongest weekend of course, but it's important that now we just analyze everything and step by step, we'll get there.
But there's also no real rush”. Verstappen also mentioned the positive signs from his simulator practice for the Suzuka circuit. “[Suzuka] felt very nice on the simulator,” he added, “and normally that’s a good indication when everything comes quite easy, so I hope of course that it’s going to be exactly the same in real life”.
The McLaren Threat
Interestingly, the young Dutch driver had some words of warning for his team as they look to get back on the winning track. He pointed to McLaren as a likely rival to cause some concerns for Red Bull in Japan.
"Honestly, what they have done this year is quite impressive, from where they started to where they are now,” Verstappen admitted. “So I, for sure, expect them to be strong. But of course, I hope to be ahead!” McLaren’s performance on high-speed tracks has indeed been noteworthy this season, with the team being one of the most improved squads of 2023. Their remarkable progress could pose a serious challenge to Red Bull's aspirations to return to the top of the podium.
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