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Red Bull Racing

How Verstappen and Red Bull dashed the competition's last ray of hope

After the Australian Grand Prix, Ferrari had hope over the prospect of beating Red Bull this season. But Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez dashed those hopes at the Japanese Grand Prix and the pecking order is now really clear.

Verstappen Japan race
To news overview © Red Bull Content Pool

It was a common saying at the beginning of the 2024 Formula 1 season: after the Japanese Grand Prix, every team would know where they stand.

The tracks in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Australia were all unique in their own way and the teams remained tight-lipped over guessing the true structure of the pecking order.

Red Bull's competitors had hope after the Australian Grand Prix. Max Verstappen retired with a terminal brake issue, while Sergio Perez struggled and couldn't climb beyond fifth place.

Despite the fact that it was a special street circuit, Ferrari and McLaren smelled blood without having to push too hard.

For example, Oscar Piastri said after his home race in Australia: “The biggest surprise was honestly Checo's pace. I was expecting him to come through and he didn't. So I think that's probably a bit of optimism for everyone else on the grid.

“It’s rare that anyone, especially Red Bull, has a mechanical issue this these days. So I'm sure they'll bounce back from that.”

And bounce back Red Bull did - the Milton Keynes-based squad took revenge at Suzuka and emphatically showed the competition its rear wing once again. Verstappen and Perez were by far the fastest drivers in qualifying and in the race, they drove unchallenged to their third 1-2 in 2024.

Carlos Sainz finished third, crossing the line 20 seconds behind as he was unable to keep up with Red Bull's pace, while McLaren, Mercedes and Aston Martin had to concede much more time.

Picking up the crumbs

The Suzuka Circuit is a good gauge for the rest of the season. The layout is incredibly diverse, with fast corners, slow corners and long straights. Add to that the tyre wear and it's clear which teams have the upper hand, even if more traditional circuits in Europe lie ahead.

Red Bull was by far the best team and had the same margin in Japan compared to last season, as Verstappen finished 19 seconds ahead of Lando Norris in 2023.

In that respect, the facts don't lie and overall, despite all efforts, the competition has not moved much closer. It seems to be a story of picking up the crumbs, as Ferrari did in Australia.

Is it likely that Red Bull will win 23 of the 24 races this season? Not necessarily - the team usually struggles at street circuits and an organisation can't always be perfect.

However, in Japan it has become clear that the competition should have no illusions about the championship. Verstappen and Red Bull are too strong on traditional tracks, unless a team manages to pull off an incredible turnaround. However, that does not seem to be possible, especially since the gap appears as big as ever.

Naturally, some teams are making strides, with Ferrari being the best example. It is clearly the second-best squad and seems to be Red Bull's biggest threat in the short term, especially if Verstappen has bad luck.

However, Ferrari must conclude after the Japanese Grand Prix that it still has a lot of work to do. Sainz expressed hope that it can compete with Red Bull from the summer onward, although he did immediately admit that the championship would then be out of reach.

The competition seems to be in a recurring nightmare: Verstappen is once again untouchable, even for teammate Perez and the ambitious Ferrari.

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