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Max Verstappen

Why Verstappen's competition must strike in Japan

A chink in Red Bull's armoury was on display in the Australian Grand Prix, will Ferrari further expose the Milton Keynes-based outfit in Japan?

Verstappen Australia
Analysis
To news overview © Red Bull Content Pool

After two dominant victories in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, Max Verstappen suffered a shock retirement at the Australian Grand Prix. The Dutchman's right-rear brake burst into flames, resulting in his first retirement in two years.

Carlos Sainz took full advantage of Verstappen's failure claimed victory, ending the reigning world champion's winning streak once again.

With Sergio Perez having finished fifth at Melbourne's Albert Park Circuit, doubts have started to build as to whether the RB20 is a 'UFO' after all.

Those doubts are not amongst the Red Bull camp, with Red Bull advisor Dr. Helmut Marko not feeling any concern.

"First of all, we have to find the cause of this brake failure [with Verstappen] and I think we have enough time for that," said Marko. "As for the set-up, I think our challenges were specific to the track in Australia.

"I don't think it's a general problem. Japan is a very different circuit, it's a real driver's circuit with a lot of fast corners, Max proved that last year. And our problems were, I hope, specific to Melbourne. From that point of view, I think we can be optimistic."

The Japanese Grand Prix will be as true representative of the pecking order looks like. The tracks in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Australia are all unique in different ways and provide a distorted picture here and there.

"On Bahrain's rough asphalt, drivers are punished with harsh tyre wear if they falter, whilst a week later only one pit-stop was required in Saudi Arabia. In Australia, graining was again a problem.

Representative

The traditional circuit in Japan is much more representative, and acts as a stepping stone towards the races on the European continent. The Suzuka Circuit actually has everything, whether it's fast corners, slow corners or straights.

Go back to last season's Japanese GP, Red Bull entered the event on the back of their Singapore Grand Prix shocker, only to strike back hard right away in Japan. Verstappen grabbed pole position by a huge margin, before winning the race and all remaining races in 2023 with ease.

That picture could easily repeat itself. Following the Australian GP, the likes of Ferrari and McLaren have been left cautiously optimistic, although they are well aware that a similar scenario is not out of the question.

Red Bull dominated in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia and suffered a rare slip in Melbourne on a unique circuit. Who says that will happen again in Japan?

And that is exactly why Verstappen's and Red Bull's closest rivals should strike again in Japan. If Ferrari defeat Red Bull next weekend, then it could possibly be assumed that we have a genuine title fight on our hands.

Ferrari has proven that they can defeat Red Bull on unique circuits, it is now down to the Italians to do the same on more traditional layouts.

Red Bull bounce back

How realistic is Red Bull against Ferrari? Most fans hope a battle will ensue, but it's not likely. Red Bull do seem to have the upper hand over Ferrari so far, provided they choose the right set-up for Verstappen and Perez.

After all, that's where things went wrong in Australia. Verstappen and Perez could not find the right balance, with the latter driver having suffered a lot of tyre wear during the race as a result.

It is up to the competition to show that Red Bull can be beaten on a regular basis. Ferrari seems to be the main contender to present the fans with a battle.

The Scuderia has finally gotten tyre wear under control and is getting closer to Red Bull little by little. Should they pose a threat in Japan as mentioned, we are in for a great season with more fights.

Verstappen will have a different idea. Last year, the Dutchman desperately wanted to put a heel on the competition after the debacle in Singapore. He succeeded gloriously, and ironically, the same scenario occurs after his failure in Australia. Verstappen always feels good in Japan and, according to Marko, he could "parlay Ferrari if we don't have problems."

The weather may also play a role. Rain is predicted in Japan for now, which of course could again upset the pecking order.

Teams such as Ferrari, McLaren, Mercedes and Aston Martin will no doubt be hoping to improve their chances. Only a good result and a battle with Red Bull will keep the optimism alive.

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