Verstappen eyeing 'perfect' Japanese Grand Prix as Leclerc prepares for Suzuka unknown

By Sports Desk October 08, 2022

Max Verstappen believes he needs a "perfect race" to secure victory at the Japanese Grand Prix and with it a second successive Formula One world title, despite qualifying on pole.

Verstappen holds a 96-point lead in the drivers' championship as what once looked like being a fascinating battle with Ferrari's Charles Leclerc has instead turned into a procession.

The Red Bull driver's retention of the title he wrested from Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton last season is now an inevitability.

It is matter of when and not if Verstappen wins the drivers' championship, and he put himself in the box seat to do it at Suzuka by claiming pole for a race being held for the first time since 2019, the coronavirus pandemic having seen the 2020 and 2021 races cancelled.

He set a time of one minute and 29.304 seconds and avoided a grid penalty following an investigation into a Q3 near-miss with McLaren's Lando Norris.

But Verstappen refuses to get complacent even with a second title in touching distance. A win and the fastest lap bonus point will seal the championship and Verstappen would also clinch it if he wins without the fastest lap and Leclerc finishes lower than second.

"I'm not thinking about it too much. What was most important was we had a competitive car," said Verstappen. 

"We had that in qualifying and I hope it will be the same in the race because we do need a perfect race to win it. But at least it is a good start."

The weather could dampen Verstappen's hopes of a title party on Sunday, with rain forecast at the end of a weekend that saw Friday's running in practice washed out.

"We're going a little bit into the unknown," said Leclerc as he looks to extend the one-sided title fight to the United States Grand Prix after finishing 0.010 seconds behind Verstappen.

"But it looks like the conditions are also a little bit unpredictable. We don't really know whether it is going to rain or not, or maybe both. We will see."

While the conditions may be tough to judge, it is fair to say Mercedes are unlikely to compete for the win unless inclement weather arrives.

Hamilton qualified sixth while George Russell was down in eighth, the latter over a second off Verstappen's pace.

"The Red Bull is still quicker on the straight with no DRS than we are with DRS," Hamilton said. 

"Rain opens up more opportunity. It could be not the most exciting race if it's dry, at least not for us."

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    Sergio Perez and Kevin Magnussen both blame each other for the huge crash that forced a restart in the Monaco Grand Prix.

    The pair came together during the opening lap of the race as Magnussen attempted to squeeze through a tight gap on the inside of Perez on the exit of Turn One.

    The Red Bull was destroyed during the incident, while the Dane’s Haas team-mate Nico Hulkenberg also got caught in the chaos.

    All three drivers were unharmed, though were ultimately forced out of the race when it restarted.

    Perez was adamant following the race that the blame should be placed firmly on Magnussen’s shoulders.

    He said: "It was an immense crash, one I'm disappointed about. I think it was totally unnecessary at that point of the race and there was no need for that.

    "At some point, you have two options: Lift or have a contact, and I think it was too unnecessary with the speeds we were doing, and it was a massive contact.

    "It was important to take things a little bit calmer."

    The incident compounded a disappointing weekend for both teams, in particularly Haas after both drivers were disqualified from qualifying and sent to the back of the grid due to a technical infringement.

    However, Magnussen stood by his belief he had every right to go for the gap and was forced into the barrier by the Mexican.

    "From my point of view, I had a good part of my front on Perez's rear and when he went to the wall I got pushed to the wall and made contact with him," Magnussen said.

    "I trusted he was going to leave space for me since I was there. It's not a corner where you're braking into it, it's a bend on the straight, so you have to have a car otherwise you leave the other guy no option.

    "From my point of view, I was there, and I got squeezed to the wall."

    Ultimately, neither driver was punished for the incident as the stewards deemed it a racing incident which needed no further investigation. 
  • Verstappen underwhelmed by 'boring' Monaco Grand Prix Verstappen underwhelmed by 'boring' Monaco Grand Prix

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    The world number one failed to improve on his sixth-place start, after struggling to catch George Russell as he failed to finish on the podium for just the second time this season.

    Verstappen fared better than team-mate Sergio Perez though, as the Mexican was involved in a huge crash just seconds into the race, forcing him out of it after an already poor qualifying.

    Despite being underwhelmed by their performance in Monaco, Verstappen said there were still positives to take from it.

    After the race, he said: "This has been a really tricky challenging weekend with a lot of damage [to Perez's car]. Probably a weekend to forget, but also one to learn a lot from.

    "The only positive to come out of this weekend is that we understand what our big weakness is and that's what we really have to work on. I think if we can solve that and make it decent, we can gain a lot of lap time and we need to do that.

    "We finished where we started. The strategy got ruined with the red flag, so we had to back it up on the medium [tyre]. From lap one on the restart, it was driving four seconds off the pace. Just really, really boring.

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  • Monaco Grand Prix win a 'dream', says Leclerc Monaco Grand Prix win a 'dream', says Leclerc

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    After claiming pole for the third time on home soil, Leclerc was able to hold onto first and finish on the Monaco podium for the first time.

    Despite an early red flag forcing a restart, the Monegasque was in control throughout, finishing seven seconds ahead of second-place Oscar Piastri.

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    Speaking after Sunday's victory, he said: "No words can explain that. It's such a difficult race. I think the fact twice I've been starting on pole position, and we couldn't quite make it makes it even better in a way.

    "It means a lot, obviously. It's the race which made me dream of becoming a Formula 1 driver one day.

    "Fifteen laps to the end you're hoping nothing happens, and the emotions are coming.

    "My dad has given everything for me to be here, and it was a dream of ours for me to race here and win here, so it's unbelievable.

    "A huge thank you, the parade laps were special and seeing so many of my friends and people I know in the balcony, it was just very special. This one means a lot."

    Piastri put in an assured drive to finish second, holding off Sainz to prevent a Ferrari one-two and was pleased with the way the race turned out.

    "Thanks to the team. It's been a great weekend all-round. Nice to put a result on the board. I've been strong the last few weekends but didn't have the result to show for it. Nice to have a podium," he said.

    "Charles has been mega all weekend. They have been quick from the very first lap.

    "I'm happy with P2. A good result for the team. Very, very happy."

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