Formula 1 legend Emerson Fittipaldi is adamant that Max Verstappen will bounce back with a vengeance after Red Bull were made to look ordinary at the Singapore Grand Prix this past weekend. The Brazilian also weighed in on Carlos Sainz, Charles Leclerc, Lewis Hamilton and George Russell.
Like most, speaking to LasVegasInsider, Fittipaldi does not adhere to the latter view, “If you look at what happened to Red Bull in Singapore, I don’t think that will happen to them in Japan. For sure Max will be back with a vengeance.
“It was very strange what happened to Red Bull at Singapore but they will be back to full strength in a conventional racetrack like Suzuka. If Singapore is anything to go by, we could have eight drivers fighting for top spots. Verstappen, Perez, Sainz, Leclerc, Hamilton, Russell, Norris and even Piastri. Very exciting.”
Indeed the night race on Sunday proved to be a thriller but, strangely, without a hitherto invincible Red Bull in sight. Four cars from three teams, all within DRS, hunting the leading Ferrari aka eventual winner Carlos Sainz.
Sainz is extremely well prepared for the mental battle
The Spaniard drove an Alain Prost-like race, to take his second victory, which impressed double F1 World Champion Fittipaldi: “Carlos is in high-performance mode. At Monza, I saw Carlos Sainz Sr. and told him how impressed I have been with his son.”
“From his interviews, Carlos Sainz seems to be very focused. Psychologically he’s very well prepared. He was like that at Monza, where all of Italy and the Tifosi’s expectations play a role. Mentally, he’s extremely well prepared for the battle.”
On the other hand, Sainz’s rise has coincided with a strange dip in form by teammate Charles Leclerc, a hot lap expert known for his last lap Q3 exploits, with 20 pole position starts on his F1 CV. Sainz tended to lack the last bit of firepower.
But since the summer break, after a sit down with his engineers, since the Dutch GP Carlos has had the edge over Charles in Qualifying, beating him three times out of three since Zandvoort.
Charles needs to deliver now, he can do it
Regarding Leclerc’s stagnant form, Fittipaldi ventured: “I think it is difficult for Charles to have such a strong teammate. Sainz is so well prepared mentally and knows he has to improve. For any athlete at this level, there is no mercy. You have to improve all the time. You have to improve and fight.
“Charles will have to see why [Sainz] is doing this and ask why I cannot do it. He can do it, he’s intelligent, he has the talent and he’s able to recover. But he needs to deliver now,” warned Fittipaldi.
Among those four cars battling for the win during the late stages of the race in Singapore, was Mercedes man George Russell who was having a potent afternoon, pumped to win the race. And it looked like a possibility until the final lap, when he binned it. A very expensive self-inflicted mistake.
Instead of celebrating on the podium, which was a sure thing until it wasn’t, he had to watch on the telly after a pointless race as Sainz lifted the big trophy, Lando Norris runner-up and Russell’s teammate Lewis Hamilton in third.
Fittipaldi reflected on a bittersweet evening for Mercedes: “What normally happens when you look at statistics, Lewis will always recover no matter how bad it looks. Whether it’s a less than ideal starting position, or traffic, Hamilton is able to get a good result.”
George was a victim of what I call the fatigue of a race
As for Russell’s error, Fittpaldi said: “It was a shame that George just touched the outside wall into the corner. That’s the typical mistake of what I call the fatigue of a race. It’s difficult to hit the outside before turning into the corner.”
“There was a lot of stress as all four cars were running so close to each other in the last three or four laps and Russell just missed, I’d say by one inch. It can happen. That’s the fatigue, mentally, on a driver.
“When I used to race in Monaco or other street circuits like Long Beach, I’d say sometimes I painted my tires white and I think Russell was going to paint the front tires white but it was a little too much paint.
“I remember talking to Ayrton at Monaco and he was leading by a long way and then boom! He crashed. He told me: Emerson, I relaxed. And you relax and you crash.”
“Russell was the opposite. He was under pressure and fighting and he just missed. I think that humans will always make mistakes. Russell is always very focused even though he was under tremendous pressure,” reckoned 76-year-old Fittiapldi.
A reality check in the wake of Red Bull’s Singapore no-show is that Red Bull could claim the 2023 F1 Constructors’ World Championship title at Suzuka, while Verstappen can win the Drivers’ edition. But his third title in a row is likely to become official at the Qatar GP.