Suzuka has an eternal bond with Max Verstappen. There he made his debut in an official session of a Formula 1 Grand Prix on October 3, 2014. It was in the first training session of the 15th round of this season when he took the seat left to him by Frenchman Jean-Éric Vergne at Toro Rosso, now Alpha Tauri. A little Dutchman, just 17 years and three days old, surprised everyone because he only completed 23 races in Formula 3. Just five months later, at 17 years, five months and 15 days, Jos’ son would compete in the Australian GP and he would become the youngest rider to receive his baptism in the World Championship, a mark that will stand forever will, since due to the Vesrtappen case the FIA changed the regulations and set a minimum time of 18 years to be able to reach the world championship, in addition they have experience in road traffic, something that Max did not have. Japan will forever be a prominent place in the Red Bull driver’s life. And what better place than Suzuka to deliver a huge blow to the standings after the mistake in Singapore and go all in with an amazing pole position for the 17th date of the 2023 financial year, broadcast on Star+ (excluding Mexico). to bring order?
Verstappen was overwhelming. He dominated the three practice sessions and was only narrowly surpassed by Charles Leclerc at the end of the second qualifying session as the Dutchman only started once. Already in the third quarter, any hope McLaren had (a fantastic performance with Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris) of fighting for pole ended with the two-time champion’s first attempt. And if there was even the slightest doubt, he would end up reducing his time again just to make the beating worse. These 581 thousandths that he took from Piastri are a clear example of the difference between Verstappen and the others. Without failing to highlight what the Woking team has achieved, which has grown steadily since the Austrian GP, the ninth date on the calendar.
“It was an incredible weekend, especially in qualifying. I pushed it to the limit and it felt good. We had a bad weekend in Singapore but based on the preparation I felt like this track would be good for us, but you never know how good it will be so you try to find improvements in different places. Getting pole here is fantastic,” said Verstappen, who celebrated in moderation, knowing full well what a huge difference he has to the rest of the Formula 1 world and that his triple championship is only a matter of time. It will probably be in Qatar (the next date) just because they don’t give him numbers in Japan. But it has been known for a long time that the Drivers’ World Championship is over.
The title that can be defined in Suzuka is that of master builder. The gap that Red Bull has gained over the rest is stratospheric. By far, Mercedes and Ferrari are fighting for second place, light years behind the energy drink squad. Where was Checo Pérez, the other member of the Austrian team? Fifth and far, very far, at 773 thousandths. “We concentrated on the race pace because we noticed during the tests that things weren’t going well on one lap,” explained the Mexican, who has to fight with the two McLarens and Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari for the desired first place. To reach place -2 from Red Bull.
And Carlos Sainz? The Spaniard, who had just taken two pole positions in a row and won in Singapore, was only sixth and almost a second behind Verstappen. “We are one step behind Red Bull and McLaren,” he said. It seems more than a step away from the Dutch. I miss what happened to the RB19 at Marina Bay.
Given the panorama that the ranking leaves behind, one can only expect a fight for second place. It is true that racing must be done, as Juan Manuel Fangio said. But unless there is a mistake from Verstappen or a failure from Red Bull, the combination of Dutch and Austrian anthems will once again be heard on the Formula 1 podium.