Red Bull in danger? Max Verstappen ‘not very happy’ with race data as big threat named

Thomas Maher
Max Verstappen & Sergio Perez, Red Bull, 2024 Japanese Grand Prix. F1 news

Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez leave the garage.

Max Verstappen believes there’s a question mark over Red Bull’s long-run pace, and is looking over his shoulder at another team.

Verstappen clinched pole position to lead a Red Bull 1-2 at Suzuka, with Sergio Perez just 0.066 behind, while Lando Norris claimed third place for McLaren ahead of Australian GP winner Carlos Sainz.

Max Verstappen wary of Ferrari threat

Additional reporting by Pablo Hidalgo.

While Ferrari wasn’t able to get involved in the qualifying fight for pole position, with Sainz down in fourth and a mystified Charles Leclerc in eighth, Verstappen believes the Scuderia will be a far bigger threat when it comes to race day.

Lacking long-run data from Friday, the teams did their race simulations during third practice on Saturday morning. Running similarly-aged medium tyres, both Ferrari drivers were able to consistently lap around 1:36.5 – the Red Bulls lapping in the low 1:37s on their race sim.

This time difference was noticed by Verstappen, who addressed the threat of Ferrari as he spoke to the media following qualifying.

Asked why he reckoned Ferrari couldn’t get involved in the pole position fight, Vertappen said: “Yeah, I mean, I cannot look inside the Ferrari garage to see why that is.

“But it’s quite obvious that then in the long run they seem quite competitive. So, yeah, I mean, we’ll see tomorrow, of course, why that is or if it actually is the case like that.”

With a McLaren separating Sainz from the two Red Bulls, Verstappen said the Woking-based squad is also looking “quite decent”, and admitted he wasn’t satisfied with his own long-run showing.

“I’m just not very happy with myself, you know, with how my long run was,” he said.

“So then, actually, of course, everyone else looks a bit better.”

Elaborating, Verstappen said he’s hopeful of improving the situation and making his RB20 a little more potent by the time the race begins, although options are limited given the cars are now under parc ferme conditions.

The reigning World Champion, who is just four points ahead of Leclerc in the Drivers’ Championship, said he couldn’t brand his long-run pace as feeling comfortable for the race.

“From our side, yeah, I have some ideas of what we have to look into to make tomorrow better, and that’s also what we already changed after FP3,” he said.

“So hopefully that will be better for tomorrow. I mean, our race pace is still not too bad, but it’s not how I have been feeling in some of the races this year, last year, as comfortable, let’s say, like that. But hopefully, with the changes that we made, it will be better.

“I think, so far, I haven’t been happy with my long runs. I think the pace wasn’t what I would have liked.

“So it’s a bit of a question mark going into tomorrow because, looking at the long runs, especially Ferrari, they look very comfortable. So maybe they were not so quick over one lap today, but they were definitely fast in the long run. So we’ll have to wait and see how that will evolve tomorrow in the race.”

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Verstappen highlighting the possible threat of Ferrari and McLaren resulted in differing opinions from the potential rivals for the Japanese GP podium.

Norris downplayed the possibility of being able to threaten the Red Bulls from his third-place grid slot.

“They’re quick. They complained about their race pace, but I don’t think they’ve had a bad race in the last, four or five years,” he said.

“So I think they’re going to be good tomorrow. Of course, we’ve got a lot of pressure from behind so we have to keep an eye on the mirrors. But at the same time, I want to go forward and I think we have pace to stay where we are, so that’s my goal.”

Leclerc, shrugging off the disappointment of a tough qualifying, said he’s feeling far more confident and optimistic about what may be possible on race day.

“I’m optimistic about our race pace,” he said.

“I’m less optimistic to overtake on a track like this because it’s normally very difficult to actually overtake.

“So, if we have enough pace to overtake, then I think we can do great tomorrow. But I think it’s going to be difficult.”

But, while Leclerc is feeling optimistic from eighth place on the grid, Sainz said he doubts the gap is as much in Ferrari’s favour as the data might suggest.

“No, we are not better, it’s just we’re probably just a bit lighter,” he said.

“[Red Bull] always run really, really slow, it always looks like we were going to beat them on Sunday and then they put 20 seconds on us.

“They are always super quick on Sundays, and I think they sandbag a bit on long runs because it’s their strength. Yeah, maybe we’re a bit closer but, still, it’s not like we’re going to find half a second tomorrow.”

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