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Why Verstappen is top favourite in Japan without a previous win

Why Verstappen is top favourite in Japan without a previous win

04-10-2022 08:37 Last update: 04-10-2022 08:37

Max Verstappen could become world champion in Japan for the second time in his F1 career. At the Suzuka Circuit, Verstappen has never won before, but the Dutchman often achieved the maximum result here. With the best car in 2022, the Dutchman is therefore top favourite for victory.

F1 debut in Japan

The link between Verstappen and Suzuka dates back to 3 October 2014. Verstappen was still a Formula 3 driver then, but as a newly-formed part of the Red Bull Junior Team, he was allowed to take over Jean-Eric Vergne's seat during the first free practice session. Verstappen was then seventeen years and three days old, making him the youngest ever driver in an F1 session.

A year later, Verstappen is Toro Rosso's regular driver and with the Renault engine, Suzuka is not exactly the ideal circuit for the team. The powerplant plays an important role in Japan because of the long straights and high-speed corners. Verstappen starts the race from 17th position after a grid penalty but impresses on Sunday. He cleverly battles his way to ninth place, even ahead of teammate Carlos Sainz who had started from 10th position. Verstappen is the best-classified driver with a Renault engine, still ahead of Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat of Red Bull Racing.

Verstappen maximises

Meanwhile, in 2016, Verstappen is in a Red Bull Racing car himself. The Limburger has taken over the seat from Kvyat and, with a win in Spain and podium finishes in Austria, England and Malaysia, shows he is cut from the right racing cloth. In Japan, it is no different.

Grid penalties by the Ferrari drivers allow Verstappen to start from third position, where he plays a crucial role in Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton's title fight. Indeed, a poor start by Hamilton puts the Dutchman between the title rivals on P2 and he is fighting tooth and nail for his position. Verstappen moves at the last minute when defending, to Hamilton's displeasure, but the Red Bull driver is just allowed to keep his second position. Daniel Ricciardo does not feature in the piece and finishes well behind on P6.

In 2017, Verstappen is beaten by a minimal margin in qualifying by Ricciardo, but on Sunday, Verstappen puts things right. Starting from P4, he already moves up one place due to problems with Sebastian Vettel and Ricciardo is also quickly passed. Verstappen follows winner Lewis Hamilton closely throughout the race, but can never really put him under pressure.

In 2018, Verstappen is again faster than his teammate, but the dominance of the Mercedes engine is too great to do anything. The Dutchman qualifies in third place and also finishes there. In 2019, Verstappen is unlucky at the start, where he is thrown out of the race by Charles Leclerc.

World title destined for Japan

Verstappen and Suzuka are a happy combination in that respect. Never has Verstappen had a car with much power to be labelled a favourite here, but with the high-speed corners, Max can make the difference. Suzuka is also really a so-called 'driver's circuit' in that respect.

Since 2019, Suzuka has become even more important for Verstappen and Red Bull Racing due to its partnership with Honda. Verstappen was therefore disappointed not to be able to treat the Japanese fans to a podium. In the following years, Verstappen was competitive but did not race F1 in Japan due to the coronavirus.

In 2022, Honda's name disappeared from F1, but the partnership is still in place in the background. The current Red Bull Powertrain is still just a Honda engine, but only with a different name. That Verstappen could achieve a first victory in Japan at Suzuka with this powerful engine and also take his second world title should make the upcoming weekend extra special.

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