Max Verstappen returns to form in Japanese Grand Prix practice

By Sports Desk September 22, 2023

A “fired-up” Max Verstappen sent a warning to the rest of the grid that Red Bull are back on form as he set a searing pace to top the first two practice sessions at the Japanese Grand Prix.

Verstappen’s record 10-race winning run and Red Bull’s unbeaten season came to a shuddering halt last weekend in Singapore, where the team admitted they did not understand their struggles with the car’s set-up around the street circuit.

The 25-year-old was confident of a return to form around the high-speed corner track at Suzuka, where Lewis Hamilton predicted the Red Bull would be “phenomenal”, but all eyes were on the Dutchman who is closing in on a hat-trick of world titles.

His response to the struggles of Singapore was immediate and emphatic, finishing 0.626 seconds clear of Ferrari’s Singapore-winner Carlos Sainz in P1 before beating Charles Leclerc by 0.320sec in P2.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said: “He dealt with (Singapore) very maturely.

“It was a difficult weekend but he raced very hard. It was what it was. He knew at some point we were going to get beaten and he dealt with the situation well.

“He has certainly come here pretty fired up as you could see from his outlap in P1 today.

“Max knew it was always going to come to an end at some point. That 10th victory meant a lot to him and certainly to the team so I’m glad Singapore wasn’t the 10th in that succession of races. I think he has just shown great leadership and great maturity.”

The second session was red-flagged with a little over two minutes remaining when Pierre Gasly crashed heavily into the barriers at Degner Two, bringing a premature end to the session.

McLaren had been tipped to be the closest challengers to Red Bull and Verstappen this weekend, with Mercedes’ George Russell even suggesting the British team could be favourites.

Lando Norris showed strong pace to finish the day third, albeit 0.464sec off the pace, while Oscar Piastri, who signed a contract extension earlier this week, claimed eighth in the second McLaren.

Red Bull will almost certainly clinch the Constructors’ Championship this weekend at the home race for their engine supplier Honda.

But Sergio Perez was over a second off the pace of his team-mate, finishing 11th in P1 and ninth in P2.

Fernando Alonso claimed sixth for Aston Martin ahead of the Williams of Alex Albon.

Mercedes pair Russell and Hamilton struggled in the opening session, finishing a lowly 13th and 16th respectively, with chief race engineer Andrew Shovlin admitting the team had work to do on the car setup.

Russell claimed fifth in P2 but Hamilton was only 14th, with the seven-time world champion a huge 1.141sec adrift off the pace.

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  • We will be back says Perez following Canadian Grand Prix incident We will be back says Perez following Canadian Grand Prix incident

    Sergio Perez has apologised following a second successive retirement at the Canada Grand Prix which left him 87 points behind Red Bull team-mate, Max Vertsappen.

    The 34-year-old remained fifth overall in the world championship and a point behind Ferrari's Carlos Sainz, who was one of five drivers that failed to finish the race. 

    In difficult conditions in Montreal, the Mexican started 16th but hopes of climbing up the pecking order soon faded after damaging his car's front wing on the opening lap when he made contact with Alpine's Pierre Gasly.

    He then crashed into the barriers late in the day after losing control on a damp kerb at turn six, hobbling back to the pits with a broken rear wing. 

    "I'm very sorry for my team, I let them down today. But we will come back no doubt. There’s a very long way to go," Perez said on social media.

    His final incident cost him a three-place grid penalty for the next race in Barcelona, with the stewards punishing him for a breach of the safety rules that require a driver to stop if the car is unsafe.

    "The incident was on me, I touched the wet part into turn six and I couldn’t stop the car, I couldn’t touch the brakes," Perez said on Sunday.

    "It has been a very tough couple of weekends, we will regroup, keep our heads down and learn from the weekend. We identified a couple of issues after qualifying and they meant we would have qualified a lot higher.

    "Hopefully we can be back to our form in Spain and get back to the level we were at earlier in the season. I am confident in that, there are good tracks coming for us."

    Perez recently signed a new two-year deal with Red Bull, ending speculation that the world champions will sign free agent Sainz ahead of the new season. 

  • We will be back says Perez following Canadian Grand Prix We will be back says Perez following Canadian Grand Prix

    Sergio Perez has apologised following a second successive retirement at the Canada Grand Prix which left him 87 points behind Red Bull team-mate, Max Vertsappen.

    The 34-year-old remained fifth overall in the world championship and a point behind Ferrari's Carlos Sainz, who was one of five drivers that failed to finish the race. 

    In difficult conditions in Montreal, the Mexican started 16th but hopes of climbing up the pecking order soon faded after damaging his car's front wing on the opening lap when he made contact with Alpine's Pierre Gasly.

    He then crashed into the barriers late in the day after losing control on a damp kerb at turn six, hobbling back to the pits with a broken rear wing. 

    "I'm very sorry for my team, I let them down today. But we will come back no doubt. There’s a very long way to go," Perez said on social media.

    His final incident cost him a three-place grid penalty for the next race in Barcelona, with the stewards punishing him for a breach of the safety rules that require a driver to stop if the car is unsafe.

    "The incident was on me, I touched the wet part into turn six and I couldn’t stop the car, I couldn’t touch the brakes," Perez said on Sunday.

    "It has been a very tough couple of weekends, we will regroup, keep our heads down and learn from the weekend. We identified a couple of issues after qualifying and they meant we would have qualified a lot higher.

    "Hopefully we can be back to our form in Spain and get back to the level we were at earlier in the season. I am confident in that, there are good tracks coming for us."

    Perez recently signed a new two-year deal with Red Bull, ending speculation that the world champions will sign free agent Sainz ahead of the new season. 

  • Canadian Grand Prix 'an opportunity missed', admits Russell Canadian Grand Prix 'an opportunity missed', admits Russell

    George Russell secured Mercedes their first podium of the Formula One season at the Canadian Grand Prix, but felt his third-place finish was a missed opportunity.

    The British driver was on pole for the first time since the Hungarian Grand Prix in 2022 and led for the first 21 laps before being overtaken in quick succession by McLaren's Lando Norris and eventual winner, Max Verstappen. 

    In a contest that saw the drivers endure difficult conditions and in which five cars failed to finish, Russell did manage to regain first place from his compatriot on lap 27 following the safety car being deployed, but again found himself chasing Norris after running wide. 

    He dropped to fourth behind Oscar Piastri, but would reclaim a podium place with his fresh medium tyres for the closing laps, enough to get past the Australian and team-mate Lewis Hamilton, who were on the hard compounds.

    Red Bull's Verstappen claimed his sixth victory of the season, extending his championship lead over Ferrari's Charles Leclerc to 56 points after a weekend to forget for the Italian team. 

    Speaking after the race, Russell believed he had the pace to catch the Dutchman before his coming together with Piastri, but enjoyed being back at the front of the pecking order despite admitting to a few mistakes. 

    "It feels like a missed opportunity, to be honest," said Russell shortly after the conclusion of the race. "We were really quick at the beginning of the race on the inters, and then obviously Lando came through really fast.

    "Then we got back on to the slicks, made a couple of mistakes out there just pushing the limits and paid the price for it.

    "Nevertheless, first podium of the year and we truly had a really fast car this weekend and to be back in the mix fighting for victory was really fun.

    "When we put the mediums on at the end we were really, really fast and I think that mistake with Oscar when I tried overtaking him and I lost the position to Lewis cost us at least P2 and maybe we could have fought with Max later in the race."

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