A nightmare in Suzuka: Verstappen’s revenge

Six months after Max Verstappen was defeated at the 2023 Singapore Grand Prix, his winning streak was ended again in Melbourne. Both times, Carlos Sainz was victorious and Verstappen is out for revenge this weekend at the 2024 Japanese GP.

Verstappen leads the Formula 1 drivers’ championship by just four points over Charles Leclerc following his shock retirement at the Australian GP.

Ferrari‘s pace was impressive but who knows what would have happened if Verstappen saw the chequered flag. We will get plenty of answers at Suzuka, a track which really shows how good your car is and a circuit the drivers adore.

Verstappen targets three-peat at Suzuka

Like many tracks, Suzuka has been a venue of success for Verstappen in recent years. He took a brilliant win in the wet in 2022 on his way to a second world title and dominated in the try last year.

In 2023, he failed to finish on the podium at the previous event in Singapore as Red Bull had a troubled weekend. However, he bounced back two weeks later in Suzuka with a stunning qualifying lap to set up a classy victory.

Verstappen is always on it anyway but a poor result just seems to fire him up. After the 2021 Azerbaijan GP, when his tyre blew out with a few laps remaining whilst leading, he took a brilliant win next time out in France.

After what some may see as misfortunate at the 2021 British GP, after a collision with Lewis Hamilton, and certainly at the start of the 2021 Hungarian GP when Verstappen was an innocent bystander when Valtteri Bottas and Lance Stroll caused a multi-car crash, the Dutchman responded with wins in Spa-Francorchamps and Zandvoort.

Max Verstappen looks on ahead of the 2024 Japanese GP | Mark Thompson / Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

The three-time world champion just oozes confidence and you can’t help but feel he will have the last laugh come Sunday and get back on top.

“Every year is different, but also, last year we had a bit of a difficult weekend in Singapore,” said Verstappen, who has won 56 Grand Prix.

“I think if you look at Melbourne performance-wise, I think we were quick, but we didn’t finish the race. So that’s not ideal, but our car normally likes you know the higher speed corners, so hopefully that you know we can show that again this weekend.”

Sainz back to full fitness

Ferrari‘s pace this weekend will tell us if we get a title fight or not. High-speed corners was Ferrari‘s biggest weakness in 2023 but they have improved that significantly.

They have always been strong in the low-speed corners and their new 2024 design has better aerodynamic surfaces which produces more downforce.

Verstappen gained most of his time on his special Q3 lap in 2023 in the first sector, the Esses section which is like an uphill ski slalom. This area of the track will be where Ferrari will hope to have closed the gap.

Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc celebrate on the podium after 2024 Australian Grand Prix 2024 | Scuderia Ferrari Press Office
Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc celebrate on the podium after 2024 Australian Grand Prix 2024 | Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

Sainz, who is doesn’t have a contract for 2025, is the Ferrari driver in form with two podiums from two starts and has been back in the gym since Australia.

I think it’s important, like I always say in the past, to turn the page quickly – in the good and in the bad,” said Sainz. “I think obviously coming from a good it’s more difficult to turn the page because you want to stay enjoying the moment, but I turned it on Monday, started focusing my training and being back as fit as possible for Japan.

“Also, because it’s going to be a challenging track for us. I think last year was one of our most challenging ones in reference to a Red Bull. We were, I think, seven or eight tenths off four or five months ago here.

“So it’s time to see where we are this year and see if we can be at least closer and enjoy a bit more this amazing track than what we enjoyed it last year, because for me, it’s one of my favourite ones, if not my favourite.”

McLaren’s best track on paper?

McLaren had a double podium at the 2023 Japanese GP as they showed the car’s strengths in the high-speed corners, a theme that’s continued this year.

The Albert Park circuit features high-speed corners, which helped Norris to a podium, and Suzuka should suit McLaren yet again. The problem is Ferrari have vaulted towards the front, so it will be hard for Norris to challenge for his maiden F1 win.

“You’ve got a lot of high-speed corners,” said Norris. “The problem is Ferrari have improved their high speed a lot and that’s where they were struggling last year. So that’s why they’ve been able to take such a good step forward.

“I think we can still have a good weekend. We can still look forward to it. And I would love to say that if we can get two cars on a podium again, it would be a lovely weekend. But I think we have two more cars this year that we’re competing against on these types of circuits, not just Max.”

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