Helmut Marko drops cheeky Sergio Perez dig as three-way Japanese GP victory fight predicted

Jamie Woodhouse
Red Bull's Helmut Marko and Sergio Perez talking at Suzuka

Helmut Marko and Sergio Perez talking

Helmut Marko joked that Sergio Perez making the front row at Suzuka had him digging far back in his mind for the last time that happened, while he does not expect an easy drive to victory for Red Bull.

Red Bull have a few voices of doubt to silence after their nightmare Australian GP, Max Verstappen passed by Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz shortly before retiring with a brake failure, while Perez managed only P5. However, qualifying in Japan suggested Red Bull are back on top form.

Red Bull versus Ferrari versus McLaren at Suzuka?

Verstappen topped every stage of qualifying on his way to securing Japanese Grand Prix pole, while Perez pushed him all the way, falling just 0.066s short but comfortably ensuring a Red Bull front-row lockout nonetheless.

Qualifying is the area where Marko has challenged Perez to improve if he is to secure a new Red Bull contract – his current deal up at the end of F1 2024 – and Perez will certainly tick that box if he can make his Suzuka qualifying performance a regular occurrence across the season.

Indeed, Marko heaped the praise on Perez, but could not resist teasing him by suggesting he had to really think hard for the last time Perez was on the front row. For reference, that was when he took pole for the 2023 Miami Grand Prix.

Speaking to ORF, Red Bull senior advisor Marko said: “The most important thing this weekend is that the updates work well right away and that we did a good job of fine-tuning the setup. That means that we are now in first and second place.

“It’s been a long time since Perez was on that front row, I have to dig into my memory for that.

“I think Perez was better than expected, especially after his bad weekend here last year. He’s gotten better since then.

“Right here at this circuit, which is a real driver’s circuit after all, the corners of Sector 1 are among the fastest corners and in them Perez was able to keep up with Max very well.”

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Traditionally Red Bull has grown even stronger on a race day, though there are elements of doubt surrounding Grand Prix Sunday at Suzuka, with team principal Christian Horner expecting the anticipated drop in temperatures and subsequent impact on the tyres to be a “challenging factor”.

Verstappen meanwhile admitted that his race pace remains a “question mark” as his long runs suggest he may be vulnerable to Ferrari.

Marko concurs and therefore is very happy that Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc – who he identifies as the fastest after Friday’s race simulations – will start P8, though he expects Ferrari and McLaren to bring the fight on Sunday.

“Leclerc is relatively further back. Thank God, because in the [Friday] long runs he was the fastest,” said Marko.

“So I think the race is going to be a battle between McLaren, Ferrari and ourselves.”

McLaren’s Lando Norris will launch from P3 on the grid, with Ferrari’s Australian Grand Prix winner Sainz starting P4.

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