- Max Verstappen had won 10 races in a row ahead of the Singapore Grand Prix
- However, the world champion finished in fifth place to end his imperious streak
- He hopes to bounce back in Japan and was quickest in the first practice session
Max Verstappen’s Japanese revenge mission got off to the perfect start on Friday as the reigning world champion topped the leaderboard after a ferocious first practice session.
Verstappen, 25, is in a relentless mood here after his shock fifth-place finish in Singapore last weekend saw his 10-race winning run come to an end.
He was almost a second-and-a-half quicker than Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez in Suzuka. Carlos Sainz, winner of the race in Marina Bay, came closest to the Dutchman’s 1:31.647 lap time, but was still seven tenths off the pace.
Verstappen said the track ‘felt very nice’ on the simulator ahead of Friday’s practice, and that translated onto the Honda circuit, with the championship leader finding joy on Suzuka’s long, fast corners. Aside from one moan on the radio regarding George Russell’s track position during his hot lap, it was smooth-sailing for the Dutchman, an ominous warning for the rest of the grid.
‘Max laid down a statement of intent with his first flying lap of the weekend, which was truly impressive,’ purred Christian Horner, the Red Bull chief quietly confident his team can return to the top step of the podium here.
Max Verstappen was quickest in the first practice session at the Japanese Grand Prix on Friday
The world champion is hoping to bounce back from his fifth place finish in Singapore last week
‘It is a good starting point, but we should hopefully have a strong car here this weekend.’
Any repeat of the issues they faced last week in Marina Bay?
‘Not so far, but I think that was very much circuit-specific. Hopefully this is a circuit that is a little more conventional and plays to the car’s strengths, not weaknesses.’
While Verstappen cannot win the championship here, Red Bull can seal the constructors’ title, should the team outscore Mercedes by one point. The early indications are that they will do so at a canter, with Lewis Hamilton and George Russell well off the pace in FP1, two seconds and nearly one-and-a-half seconds slower respectively than Verstappen at the top of the leaderboard.
Lando Norris, who finished second in Singapore last time out, was third fastest in the first practice session, ahead of Charles Leclerc and Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri’s Japanese hero.
Red Bull chief Christian Horner (right) insisted Verstappen laid down a statement in practice