The Singapore hiccup, which it is turning out to be for the reigning F1 World Champions, as Verstappen signalled his intent, as RBR team boss Christian Horner observed, from the moment he got on track at the fabled Suzuka track. From lap one he was on it and never really headed all day.
In the Red Bull team report, Verstappen summed up his opening day in Japan: “It felt really good today, from lap one the car was enjoyable to drive again. We’ve had a strong day on the short and long runs. There’s a lot of degradation on this track so it will be quite tough on tyres during the race.
“So far, we’ve had a good start to the weekend. The competition looks tight but for now we’ll focus on ourselves and try to optimise our performance, if we do that, I’m confident that we can fight for pole tomorrow,” Verstappen warned his rivals.
The soon-to-be triple WDC ended FP2, three-tenths of a second up on Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.
Perez: I believe we are going to be strong
While the #11 car looked sweet all day, the same cannot be said of the #11 with Sergio Perez still struggling as P11 and P9 in the two FP sessions on the day testify.
Perez reflected: “It was a very interesting Friday. This morning we went a bit off balance, but we now have a very good understanding of the direction we need to take. Things are certainly looking much better than they did last weekend, which is positive.
“The tyre degradation seems to be quite high at this circuit, especially with the hot temperatures we are expecting. I look forward to qualifying; I believe we are going to be strong tomorrow and on Sunday,” added the Mexican veteran.
While Verstappen is looking strong, Perez is not and will have work to do on Saturday to find his A-Game and set up so that he can at least catch a sniff of his pace-setting teammate. The number two driver needs to find at east a second to be in the same timezone as Max.
Red Bull need to outscore Mercedes by a single point this weekend to claim their second F1 Constructors’ title in a row, to add to the sixth they have in their trophy cabinet since the team began life back in 2005. This year they have already won 14 of 15 races of the 22 scheduled.