Despite the unsociable time for the traditional F1 fanbase in Europe, all eyes will be on the results of the Friday practice sessions in Japan this weekend schedule to run before most will be awake. The question on everyone’s lips is whether the FIA technical directive on flexi wings and floors has affected the RB19 badly or was the shocker in Singapore just an outlier?
Having won 24 from the 25 previous races and with Max on a world record run of ten consecutive victories, the might of the Red Bull machine seemed invisible before the night time race in the Asian city state.
Red Bull strategy error
Carlos Sainz was dominant over the weekend for Ferrari, claiming pole position and the eventual race win, though there were signs during the race that the Red Bull car in the hands of Max Verstappen had plenty of pace.
Red Bull made the strange decision to start both their drivers on the hard tyre. This is usually a strategy when no safety car is expected or the probability of one early in the race is low.
Yet in Singapore there is always a safety car and the race in fact averages two.
So had Verstappen started on soft tyres, having plenty left after missing Q3, he would have been on the medium tyre as the rest of the lead group switched to the hard, and just 20 seconds or so from the leader.
Hamilton muses “something’s up”
On lap 48 Max was in fact over 41 seconds behind the race leader and ended up just 21 at the chequered flag.
However, Lewis Hamilton is unsure whether there is a problem that may be the start of a long term Red Bull decline or if Singapore was just a blip on the radar.
“I would think that if they’re not 30 seconds ahead, like they have done in the past, then something’s up,” Hamilton mused in Japan.
“It was obviously a difficult weekend the last one, but their car should be phenomenal here. They’ve been phenomenal all year long, their pace at pretty much every circuit.
Red Bull deny rule change problems
Having changed his tune somewhat Hamilton now sounded in awe of the Red Bull team’s efforts.
“I mean, it’s going to be great to watch that car in general. Normally, you’d come here and it’s beautiful to watch the laps that they do because the whole team and the drivers are doing an amazing job with the package they have. So it’ll be interesting to see how the weekend goes.
“I hope we’ll be closer and I hope they’re not as fast as that 30-second gap they’ve had in the past.”
Despite their unconvincing pace in Singapore, the Red Bull team consistently denied there was a problem with the RB19 car following the FIA’s new technical directive. Christian Horner insisted to Sky F1 “it is the exact same car that won in Monza and Zandvoort.”
Checo says “wrong setup”
Lewis Hamilton may be left staring into the distance to spot the RB19 pair in Suzuka given Sergio Perez predictions this will be one of “the best circuits” on the calendar for Red Bull this year.
Checo admitted the team did not fully understand the problems in Singapore though the indications are there that set up mistakes were to blame.
“We still don’t understand fully what went so wrong in Singapore,” said Perez.
“We obviously have some good ideas on how we prepared the weekend and the misinformation we had and where things got wrong. But obviously, it’s something that we will keep internally, but there’s some good indications that we probably approached the weekend with the wrong setup.
Max does simulator preparation
“But certainly this track is very different, so there shouldn’t be a reason why not to be strong.
“And Suzuka actually, this should be one of the best circuits for us.”
Max Verstappen cannot be crowned world champion this weekend but should Red Bull outscore Mercedes in Japan, they will take the constructors’ championship earlier than any team has done before.
Yet the Dutch driver was fully focused on the job in hand telling the assembled media, “(Suzuka) felt very nice on the simulator and normally that’s a good indication when everything comes quite easy, so I hope of course that it’s going to be exactly the same in real life.”
McLaren “quite impressive”
While the Mercedes drivers were quick on their fresh medium tyres towards the end of the Singapore race, Verstappen believes McLaren are the team to watch in Japan.
Norris had a raft of upgrades on his McLaren in Singapore and he pushed Sainz to the very end in pursuit of his first F1 victory. Piastri will also have the upgrades this weekend.
“Honestly, what they have done this year is quite impressive, from where they started to where they are now,” said Max.
“So I, for sure, expect them to be strong. But of course, I hope to be ahead!” Laughed Verstappen.
Verstappen hits back at ‘moaners’
The world champion was asked whether the Ferrari win in Singapore was good for Formula One and whether Red Bull winning all the time made the sport ‘boring.’
“I don’t think about what is good for F1, I don’t think it was necessarily bad, what was happening, we were just better than everyone else.
“If people can’t appreciate that, you are not a real fan, but this is how it goes.
“This is why I was super relaxed about it. We didn’t perform and other people did a better job than us and deserved to win. They shouldn’t win because people say it’s boring that we are winning,” concluded Verstappen.
Bizarre Tsunoda rumours
The 2023 Formula One silly season has been nothing but a damp squib. The driver market has thus far been utterly predictable with Mercedes retaining both Hamilton and Russell, Haas indicating they will make no changes and Ferrari and Aston Martin have drivers with contracts through to 2025.
McLaren have Lando Norris locked in for two more seasons and new boy Oscar Piastri is expected to receive a contract extension with the papaya liveried team…. READ MORE ON THIS STORY