This weekend’s first Japanese Grand Prix since 2019 represents Max Verstappen’s second chance to become a double World Champion and retain his 2021 crown; however, he’s been preparing for the weekend in an unexpected way.
Verstappen failed to win the title at last weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix, after an issue by his team in qualifying ultimately ended any hopes he had to battle for victory.
The Dutchman was forced to start from P8 at the Marina Bay Circuit last Sunday, after having to abort his final Q3 lap due to his team failing to put enough fuel into his RB18.
Had he denied the team’s order to abort his lap and pit, then the championship leader would’ve been unable to provide a necessary fuel sample, something which would’ve resulted in a disqualification from the session and a pitlane start.
Following on from the disastrous qualifying, the race wasn’t much better.
Verstappen fell outside the points on the opening lap after avoiding contact with Kevin Magnussen, and then went on to runoff the circuit later in the race after a huge lock-up whilst behind Lando Norris.
The error saw Verstappen drop from fifth to back outside the points, before fighting back to seventh by the end of the race.
The result meant Verstappen failed to win the title; however, due to boasting a 104-point lead over Charles Leclerc, he can wrap it up at Suzuka this weekend.
To claim the title this weekend, Verstappen needs to score six points more than Leclerc and eight points more than Sergio Pérez, which likely means the Red Bull driver needs to win this weekend and claim the fastest lap.
Winning the title in Japan would be perfect for the team, following on from the announcement that Honda would be ‘returning’ to the team in a bigger capacity, similar to the role they held from 2019-2021.
Whilst Verstappen admits Honda never left, the Japanese manufacturer supposedly walked away from the sport at the end of 2021, despite continuing to offer the Red Bull family with technical support and a power unit base.
The “new agreement” as described by Red Bull advisor Dr. Helmut Marko, will see the Honda logo return to Red Bull’s and AlphaTauri’s cars, with it remaining until at least the end of 2025.
With that in mind, it would be smiles all round at Red Bull and Honda if the 25-year-old becomes a two-time World Champion on Sunday.
In preparation for the weekend, Verstappen and Pérez have been playing ‘keep it up’ in the capital city of Japan, Tokyo.
Pérez appears to have some footballing skills, whereas Verstappen should certainly stick to racing!