Formula 1 qualifying in Japan: Verstappen demoralizes competitors again

EI can still do it: Max Verstappen starts from pole position at the Japanese Grand Prix this Sunday (7am CET live on FAZ for Formula 1 and on Sky). It was as if the black spot of Singapore on the winner’s vest had never existed. “Now it begins,” he greeted into his helmet microphone, and the command post confirmed to him: “It was great.”

Just when everything is on the line, pole and compensation at the same time, the display on the steering wheel of Verstappen’s company car malfunctions. Disabling equipment, but not the driver. Confidence helps the world champion overcome the asphalt eight in Suzuka: “It’s very nice to push the limits again.”

“It was pretty solid.”

The Dutchman leads the decisive stretch, with only the McLarens of Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris behind him, with a gap of four tenths, which is worth noting. This commanding performance is surprising given his strength, and newcomer Piastri almost coolly comments, “That was pretty solid.” before: “Of course, I’ll try to overtake.”

In the final round of qualifying, Verstappen races against himself as usual, knocking another two-tenths off his best time: demoralization based on the schedule. Ferrari increases engine power, but Charles Leclerc remains in fourth place, seven tenths behind, with Lewis Hamilton and Silver Arrows’ George Russell speculating on a higher race pace and in seventh and eighth starting positions.

'Of course I'll try to overtake': Piastri has never been on the front row in Formula 1.

‘Of course I’ll try to overtake’: Piastri has never been on the front row in Formula 1.

Image: AP

It’s unlikely that Verstappen will forget racing overnight. And it was impossible to assume that a racing car that had won all but one Grand Prix this season would only be suitable for midfield. In his first practice at the Suzuka International Circuit, Verstappen finished top of the timesheets.

Despite all the looseness, this best time was exactly what the Dutchman needed: simply leave no room for doubt, leave nothing behind after the miss in Singapore. With ambition, skill and focus, we are back at the top of Suzuki. There was also a bit of anger, as team boss Christian Horner said: “If losing doesn’t hurt you, you’re in the wrong business.”

However, one impression from Singapore remained: the field of pursuit seemed to be getting closer. However, the colors of the top hitter change. Last time it was Ferrari red, and this weekend it’s mostly McLaren papaya orange. The changes are driven by different track characteristics, with plenty of fast corners suiting the McLaren, which has made the biggest leap in development of any car this season.

Red Bull can successfully defend its constructors’ title at the 16th of 22 world championship races on Sunday. Getting one point more than Mercedes will be enough until Ferrari can catch up by 24 points. “The fact that we are talking about these seven races before the end of the season shows what kind of year we have had,” says team principal Horner.

The driver list for the new season is almost full after McLaren initially handed convincing newcomer Piastri a contract until the end of 2026. On Saturday morning, Japan’s Yuki Tsunoda, microphone in hand, was able to announce to the crowd in the main stand that he was entering his fourth year at Alpha Tauri.

Surprisingly, Australian Daniel Ricciardo, who is currently recovering from a broken arm, was immediately confirmed as a partner, and has so far been superbly represented by 21-year-old New Zealander Liam Lawson. In the future, this talent will become a reserve and simulator driver for Alpha Tauri and Red Bull Racing – and could serve as an effective means of putting pressure on Mexican Sergio Perez.

This means that only one Logan Sargeant booth at Williams will remain open for 2023. The newcomer was unconvincing, according to team manager James Vowles, the young driver from Florida is “under observation”. So he has to show something, at least do it right. But then he did everything wrong at the start of qualifying. On his way to a fast lap, he lost control of the blue car in the final corner, slid over the grass verge and crashed hard into the barrier. Although he emerged unscathed, it is possible that the 22-year-old driver has ruined his Formula 1 career as well.

Brazilian Felipe Drugovich is available as a successor, also due to his impressive sponsorship dowry, as well as Mercedes replacement Mick Schumacher, who has already abandoned hopes of a headquarters in 2024 and is considering Alpine’s participation in the World Sportscar Championship . to bridge the gap. Bruno Famin, the temporary head of the French brand’s Formula 1 team, has already promised to conduct a test drive: “It could be useful for both sides.” Schumacher also had an audience with the Williams executive office before Sargeant’s accident.

Source: Frantfurter Allgemeine

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