Sep.24 (GMM) Max Verstappen left no doubt about it at Suzuka – the Singapore performance crisis is over.
The Dutchman was not just seven tenths ahead of the McLarens in qualifying, but approaching a full second faster than the sister Red Bull of Sergio Perez.
“All I can say is that our cars are equal,” he said when asked about the enormous gap to Perez.
But Verstappen has left no doubt whatsoever that theories the FIA’s clampdown on flexible bodywork had badly hurt Red Bull were completely wrong.
“We had a bad weekend,” he said. “Of course then people start saying ‘ah, it’s all because of the technical directives’. I think they can go suck on an egg.”
The 25-year-old admits to have arrived in Japan “fired up” to respond to those critics, with Red Bull team advisor Dr Helmut Marko agreeing: “Max was really highly motivated here and wanted to show it.
“He has shown here that he is the fastest and the best,” Marko told ORF. “Everything else is back on track.”
For the entire rest of the field, Verstappen’s performance is a bitter pill to swallow.
“I drove an almost perfect lap and still the gap is huge,” said Charles Leclerc, whose teammate Carlos Sainz won in Singapore just seven days ago.
Lewis Hamilton says Suzuka is just another clear sign that Mercedes needs to scrap its current car concept.
“We have too much downforce at the front and too little at the rear,” he said. “You can’t solve that with upgrades. You need a new car concept for that.
“But after two years the gap to Verstappen is still one second and that’s worrying for next year,” Hamilton added.
Ferrari boss Frederic Vasseur says it’s a similar story for Maranello.
“At this late stage of development you only make small progress with upgrades. To make big ones you would have to work on the architecture of the car,” said the Frenchman.
McLaren is clearly the closest to Red Bull this weekend, but team boss Andrea Stella said the six tenths gap between Oscar Piastri and Verstappen “corresponds to the balance of power”.
“If Max leads at the start, he’ll drive his own race,” he said.
McLaren made big gains in 2023 by emulating Red Bull’s car concept lead, but Stella conceded: “It’s not just about adding more downforce.
“We also need to intervene with the chassis. But that’s a project for next year.”
But even when and if the other teams catch Red Bull, Verstappen may still be another story.
“I’ve never seen a driver go 17kph faster than the others mid-corner,” said former Red Bull driver Robert Doornbos on Ziggo Sport.