Damon Hill makes Max Verstappen prediction for Japan amid ‘really shocking’ alternative reality

Henry Valantine
Max Verstappen, Red Bull driver.

Max Verstappen suffered his first retirement for two years last time out in Australia.

Damon Hill has predicted a “big test” for the field to match Max Verstappen and Red Bull at Suzuka this weekend, despite Ferrari having won last time out in Australia.

Verstappen was dominant in Japan last season, taking pole position by over half a second and easing to victory in one of his most commanding wins of the year – and with the RB20 having flown off the line in Verstappen’s hands this time around, he goes into the weekend as hot favourite to get back to the top step of the podium.

‘Ferrari need to beat Max Verstappen in a straight race’

Ferrari appeared to be on Red Bull’s pace in Australia last time out, even before Verstappen’s unfortunate retirement following a rear-right issue.

With that, Hill hopes to see the front two teams go head-to-head in a straight fight to see where they stand, but with Suzuka presenting tough challenges through its high-degradation, tough layout, he believes Verstappen will be favourite for pole position once again.

When it comes to the racing, however, if Ferrari are able to match Verstappen and Red Bull on Sunday, not only would that be a good thing for the sport, as he wants to “see a championship open up”, it would be “really shocking” for the paddock – as it would be proof that Red Bull could be caught.

That will not come easily, however.

“I think this is going to be a big test for the competition against Red Bull at Suzuka,” Hill said on the F1 Nation podcast.

“I think this is really going to test the aero efficiency, tyre wear efficiency in the car as well.

“But Ferrari are quick in a straight line, and it is a lot of straight line, a lot of high-speed stuff in Suzuka, and what I really hope is that Ferrari are able to take the race to Red Bull during the actual race itself.

“I think qualifying will still see Max on pole by probably a similar amount, two tenths, maybe three tenths or something like that.

“The question is whether Ferrari have got good tyre deg, and we’ll be watching the FP1/2/3 on that one, to get some clues.

“But you have to say, the question is always going to be asked, did they win in Melbourne because Max broke down? We’ll never know the answer – so we need to get them to beat Max in a straight race.

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“Once that happens, and I think they’re getting close – I think we’re getting close to that.

“And that may be wishful thinking on my part, not because I don’t want Max to win anything, I just want to see some racing, and I want to see a championship open up.

“But if they do, wow, that would be really shocking for the whole of Formula 1, because it means that something can be done about this Red Bull runaway.”

McLaren driver Lando Norris joined the Ferrari duo on the podium in Australia last time out, and the 1996 World Champion explained that the Woking-based team have been making strides with the MCL38.

“They are making progress and looking more and more solid with every race that goes by,” Hill said.

“They weren’t happy with their first race at Bahrain and they were saying that they’ve got some changes, but they learned a lot in that first race.

“I think they’re gradually making some progress. They were strong, although they were unhappy with Saudi Arabia with their speed.

“They got their setup, I think, wrong for the aero setup for Saudi, but they seem to have got things in the sweet spot for Melbourne.”

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