Verstappen seeks to reiterate his dominance on the Suzuka track in Japan

SUZUKA.- Max Verstappen found the Suzuka circuit in Japan “intimidating†the first time he drove around the figure-eight track in a Formula 1 car with its high-speed curves and narrow confines.

But Suzuka no longer intimidates him and the track seems to be the ideal place for Verstappen to recover. Two weeks ago in Australia, a rear brake fire forced him to retire on the fourth lap – ending his nine-race winning streak.

“I think if you think about Melbourne from a performance perspective, I think we were fast, but we didn't finish,†Verstappen said. “That's not ideal, but our car normally likes high-speed corners, so hopefully we can show it again this weekend.†.

That's what's expected from the three-time defending F1 champion on Sunday.

He was the fastest in the first practice on Friday. For the second session, the track was completely soaked by light rain, so most teams decided not to go out to avoid tire wear. Verstappen was among those who did not come out.

The Dutchman recorded a time of 1 minute and 30.056 seconds in the first practice and was 0.181 seconds ahead of his teammate, the Mexican Sergio Pérez, and 0.213 behind the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz, who won in Australia .

Verstappen won his second F1 title at Suzuka in 2022 and dominated in Japan last season before winning the championship.

That race was just six months ago. The date of the Japanese Grand Prix has changed to the start of the F1 calendar in 2024.

Rain is forecast for Sunday, the same conditions that used to greet drivers when the race was held in the fall.

Verstappen's future:

Verstappen won the first two races in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, but his result was overshadowed by allegations of misconduct by team boss Christian Horner with an employee.

In Japan, Verstappen was asked about his future with Red Bull due to rumors that he could go to Mercedes.

“I'm happy where I am,†he said. “And yes, we want it to continue like this.†.

“I have a contract with Red Bull until '28,†he added. “After that I will see if I even want to continue.†.

Sainz admitted that closing the gap with Red Bull will be difficult.

“Last year (in September) we were 0.7-0.8 seconds behind Red Bull here,†he commented. “So it's time to see where we are this year and see if we can get closer.†.

American Logan Sargeant crashed heavily in Friday's first practice session in what he considered “a small mistake.”