Verstappen Tops Suzuka Qualifying Despite Ferrari’s Long-Run Threat

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Verstappen not “as comfortable” at Suzuka as in previous F1 races

The Suzuka weekend saw an unusual unfolding, with FP2 effectively washed out by drizzle, leading teams to focus on long-run data gathering during FP3 rather than typical qualifying simulations. In these runs, Max Verstappen trailed teammate Sergio Perez by an average of 0.122 seconds each time, with both being outpaced by Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc by 0.482 seconds on similar stint-length using medium tires crucial for race strategy.

Despite Ferrari’s strong performance in long runs, Verstappen secured pole position in Suzuka qualifying, with Perez behind him, while Leclerc could only manage eighth place, trailing Carlos Sainz in the other SF-23 by four spots.

Verstappen expressed surprise at Ferrari’s fall from the pole fight they previously engaged in with Red Bull in early 2024 rounds, acknowledging their competitiveness in long runs but uncertain about the reasons behind their qualifying performance. Red Bull made adjustments to their car setup after FP3 to improve for the race, as Verstappen noted a lack of comfort in their race pace compared to previous seasons.

Verstappen Tops Suzuka Qualifying Despite Ferrari’s Long-Run Threat (Credits: Planet F1)

Verstappen also observed McLaren’s promising long-run potential at Suzuka but expressed dissatisfaction with his own performance in FP3, citing understeer issues. He acknowledged that his struggles raised concerns going into the race, especially with Ferrari’s strong long-run pace.

Carlos Sainz countered concerns about Ferrari’s long-run performance, suggesting that they might run lighter fuel loads and sandbag during practice sessions. He emphasized Ferrari’s historical trend of showing significant pace on Sundays despite slower runs on Fridays, indicating that despite improvements from the previous year, closing the gap in pace might still be challenging.

The Suzuka weekend saw Red Bull’s Verstappen claim pole position despite Ferrari’s strong long-run performance. While Verstappen expressed concerns about his own race pace and Ferrari’s competitiveness, Sainz suggested that Ferrari’s true pace might not be fully reflected in practice sessions. The race outcome remained uncertain, with both teams poised for a competitive battle on race day.

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