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Verstappen primed to roar back at ‘old school’ Japan GP

Runaway Formula One championship leader Max Verstappen will be determined to roar back at Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix after his record streak of 10 straight wins ended in Singapore.

The Dutchman finished fifth under the Marina Bay lights after starting 11th on the grid, meaning he will not be able to clinch his third straight world title at Suzuka.

But Verstappen, who has won 12 of the 15 races so far this season, can move to the cusp of retaining his crown while his Red Bull team can seal the constructors’ championship.

The 25-year-old told reporters after struggling with Singapore’s street circuit, where overtaking is all but impossible, that “this track is so different to Suzuka and it doesn’t relate”.

“We have learned a bit from today and have a few ideas with what we got wrong,” he said after Carlos Sainz triumphed for Ferrari to ruin Red Bull’s perfect record this season.

“I cannot go into details but I feel good about Suzuka.”

Verstappen certainly enjoyed his last visit to Japan, beating Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc to clinch last season’s championship there.

The Dutchman won a chaotic race shortened by rain and then saw nearest rival Leclerc relegated to third by a five-second penalty, handing Verstappen the title.

Verstappen was only informed he had clinched the championship midway through the post-race TV interview, and even the driver himself was not sure if he had secured the title.

With Verstappen a whopping 151 points clear of Red Bull teammate and nearest challenger Sergio Perez in the current campaign, he could be crowned champion again as early as next month’s Qatar Grand Prix.

‘Old-school’ circuit

This year’s race in Japan has been shifted two weeks earlier in the Formula One calendar and the forecast is for dry conditions.

That should give Verstappen the chance to cut loose on Suzuka’s sweeping bends and dramatic elevation changes.

He could barely contain his excitement last year as the race returned after a three-year absence because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Nothing feels like here in Suzuka because of just the old-school nature—the gravel and the grass,” he said.

“You know you have to really build up your confidence and really build up to the limit.”

Perez finished eighth in Singapore in a rare weekend to forget for Red Bull, whose hopes of sweeping every race in 2023 came to an end.

The last time neither Verstappen nor Perez stood on the top step of the podium was in Brazil in November 2022.

Instead it was Ferrari’s Sainz who took the honours in Singapore, ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton.

Hamilton’s teammate George Russell was pushing hard for the victory until he crashed on the final lap.

After the drama and unpredictability of Singapore, the Red Bulls will start as heavy favourites to restore normal order on Suzuka’s high-speed circuit.

Red Bull lead nearest challengers Mercedes by 308 points in the constructors’ championship and will clinch the title this weekend with a one-two finish with the fastest lap.

Like with Verstappen, it is only a matter of time.

“I’m expecting Red Bull to be dominant again for the next few weekends,” conceded Norris.

“We’re getting there, we’re making progress and that’s the best thing that we can do at this time.”

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