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Japanese GP: Business as usual for Verstappen and Red Bull?

Japanese GP: Business as usual for Verstappen and Red Bull?

Triple Formula 1 World Champion Max Verstappen will be aiming to bounce back from his rare retirement in Australia to make a point in Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix but Ferrari are confident they will be in the fight at Suzuka.

Verstappen has won from pole position on his last two visits to the figure-of-eight circuit owned by engine Red Bull partner Honda, and both times by a considerable margin after a previous setback.

In 2022, when Suzuka returned after a two-year absence following the COVID-19 pandemic, Verstappen beat teammate Sergio Perez by 27 seconds in a rain-shortened race to secure his second F1 drivers’ title. He had finished only seventh in the previous race in Singapore, won by Perez.

Last year, Verstappen was fifth in a Singapore Grand Prix won by Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz — Red Bull’s sole defeat of the season — and he then dominated at Suzuka, with the fastest lap, to beat McLaren’s Lando Norris by 19 seconds.

This time he turns up after suffering his first retirement since 2022, ending a run of nine successive wins, with Sainz going on to win in Melbourne in a Ferrari one-two with Charles Leclerc.

Red Bull said to have “significant” upgrades for the RB20 for Japanese GP

BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - FEBRUARY 21: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (1) Oracle Red Bull Racing RB20 on track during day one of F1 Testing at Bahrain International Circuit on February 21, 2024 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images) // Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool // SI202402210908 // Japanese GP: Business as usual for Verstappen and Red Bull? for editorial use only //

Both of Verstappen’s Japanese GP wins came much later in the year, with Suzuka moving from a September/October title-deciding slot to peak tourist season, but Red Bull hope the story remains the same.

“Unfortunately we had a retirement in Australia so we want to come here and show that we are quick again,” Verstappen said at a fan event in Tokyo.

“For the last two years, but especially last year, for me Suzuka was a great place, so hopefully we can do something similar.”

Suzuka’s fast and flowing lines, with the awesome 130R corner, make it a very different challenge to the three races so far in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Melbourne but the sinuous circuit could also play to Red Bull’s strengths.

The champions are also rumoured to be bringing a significant car upgrade, with attention focusing on aerodynamic modifications to the sidepods.

Ferrari have emerged as Red Bull’s closest rivals, with Leclerc now only four points adrift of Verstappen. The Scuderia’s team boss Fred Vasseur at the fan event: “Everybody is very, very tight and each weekend we will need to start from scratch and push again and again and again.

Ferrari in much better shape compared to one year ago

Sainz: I dedicate 24 hours a day for seven days to recovery

“Last year we didn’t perform very well (in Suzuka) but I think we took a step forward in this kind of very high-speed corner. We’re in much better shape compared to one year ago. I’m convinced that Red Bull will be very strong in Japan, it will be difficult, but it’s open and I think it’s a good motivation the fact that we won last week,” added Vasseur.

McLaren, Aston Martin and Mercedes can also expect to be in the mix although the latter team are in danger of dropping to fifth overall as they again struggle to unlock performance from their car.

Japanese fans will have two home drivers to cheer in first practice, with Ayumu Iwasa replacing Australian Daniel Ricciardo alongside Yuki Tsunoda at Red Bull-owned RB.

Haas’s Japanese team boss Ayao Komatsu will also be making his home debut since taking on the role in January, with the U.S.-owned team chasing a third successive finish in the points.

Williams will be back to full strength after racing in Australia with one car after Alex Albon crashed and was handed teammate Logan Sargeant’s. The team will still not have a spare for the Japanese GP, however. (Writing by Alan Baldwin)

Japanese Grand Prix: Stats & Info by Reuters

  • Japanese GP at Suzuka, Round 4 of the 2024 FIA Formula 1 World Championship
  • Lap distance: 5.807km. Total distance: 307.471km (53 laps)
  • 2023 pole position: Max Verstappen (Netherlands) Red Bull one minute 28.877 seconds.
  • 2023 race winner: Verstappen
  • Race lap record: Lewis Hamilton (Britain) Mercedes, 2019: One minute 30.983 seconds.
  • Start time: 0500GMT (1400 local)
  • Sunday’s race will be the 38th Japanese Grand Prix in world championship history and 34th at Suzuka. The race was not held in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The narrow, high-speed circuit is old-style in a figure-of-eight layout, with fast corners Degner 1 and 2, Spoon and 130R, taken at 295kph.
  • Of current drivers, Hamilton has won five times in Japan (2007 at Fuji, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018) and Fernando Alonso twice (2006 Suzuka and 2008 Fuji). Other winners are Verstappen (2022, 2023) and Valtteri Bottas (2019).
  • Verstappen has won the last two Japanese Grands Prix, taking victory last year by 19.387 seconds.
  • Ferrari last won at Suzuka, a Honda-owned circuit, with Michael Schumacher in 2004. The German won the Japanese Grand Prix a record six times, with a total of eight in the country when the Pacific Grands Prix at Aida are included.
  • In 33 races at Suzuka, the winner has come from the front row on 28 occasions and been on pole in 17. Kimi Raikkonen won from 17th on the grid in 2005 with McLaren.
  • Ten of the last 17 winners have started on pole.
  • RB’s Yuki Tsunoda is the only Japanese driver on the starting grid, although Ayumu Iwasa will be taking part in first practice for the Red Bull-owned team instead of Daniel Ricciardo.

2024 F1 World Championship Points

2024 Formula 1 Standings points 2024 f1 standings after round 3 australia drivers constructorsb

Victories, Pole Positions & Podiums

  • Verstappen has won two of three races this season, his run of nine wins in a row ended in Australia by Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz.
  • Sainz is the only driver to have beaten Red Bull since 2022.
  • Hamilton has a record 103 career victories from 335 starts but is chasing his first since 2021 — a run of 48 races without a win.
  • Red Bull won 21 of 22 races last year, with Verstappen victorious in a record 19, and have won 33 of the last 36.
  • The team have won 115 races and are fourth in the all-time list of winners. Ferrari lead with 244, McLaren have 183 and Mercedes 125.
  • Verstappen has won 56 grands prix and is third on the all-time list. Michael Schumacher is second on 91.
  • Hamilton has a record 104 career poles, his most recent in Hungary last year.
  • Verstappen has qualified on pole in all three races so far this year and the last four in total. He can become the first driver since Hamilton in 2015 to take pole in the opening four races of a season.
  • Verstappen has 100 career podiums.
  • The Red Bull driver set a record of 21 podiums in a season last year but Michael Schumacher remains the only driver to have stood on the podium in every race of a season (2002).

Milestone

  • Verstappen needs 39 laps in the lead to reach a career total of 3,000, a milestone previously achieved only by Hamilton, Schumacher, and Sebastian Vettel.