Max Verstappen said the RB19 was “enjoyable to drive again” in Japanese GP Friday practice, with ex-Aston Martin strategy chief Bernie Collins doubting Red Bull can be stopped based on that form.
Red Bull had highlighted Singapore as a potential stumbling block to their pursuit of an undefeated F1 2023 campaign, though few expected their run of dominance to come to an end, with Verstappen having won 10 grands prix on the trot, while Red Bull’s winning streak stood at 15.
Both streaks were snapped in Singapore though, with Verstappen and Red Bull then heading to Suzuka looking to ensure that those struggles were a mere blip. And it seems like that is exactly what it was.
Max Verstappen enjoys driving Red Bull RB19 once more
The Dutchman came flying out of the blocks to top FP1 by six-tenths over Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, and though Leclerc in the sister Ferrari SF-23 narrowed Verstappen’s advantage to three-tenths by the end of FP2, Verstappen nonetheless has put down a daunting marker for the competition.
“Yeah, it felt really good today,” Verstappen told Sky F1 to the suggestion it was back to normal on Friday at Suzuka.
“From lap one, the car was enjoyable to drive again and it seems like we had a strong day on short runs, long runs.
“It is a lot of degradation on this track, so I think it will be quite tough I think on tyres in the race, but so far, I think we have a good start to the weekend.”
It is a safe assumption to make then that Verstappen is in the fight for pole, with Ferrari and McLaren positioning themselves at this stage as the potential threats.
Verstappen though says it is a case of Red Bull focusing on themselves, as doing that well will put them right in the fight to clinch pole.
“It looks like it’s all a bit tight behind me,” said Verstappen. “Between Ferrari, McLaren are close, so we’ll have a look.
“But I think at the end of the day, we just focus on ourselves and try to optimise our performance and then if we do that, then I’m confident that we fight for pole.”
Red Bull RB19 “looking unstoppable”
Sky F1 pundit Bernie Collins is not so sure that anyone is going to find an answer to Red Bull judging by their one-lap pace, though she sees a very intriguing battle shaping up behind.
“The Red Bull looked sort of unstoppable today at least,” she said. “I’m sure that’s going to continue into Saturday.
“It’s going to be interesting whether Sunday that change of wind [direction], is that going to potentially trip someone up?
“But behind that, it’s so close. Ferrari, Mercedes, Aston [Martin], McLaren as well, there’s a lot of cars very, very close. So it’s going to be really interesting just behind that.”
Red Bull will win the 2023 Constructors’ title in Japan if they avoid being outscored by Mercedes and Ferrari do not outscore them by 24 points or more.