NB | ‘If he didn’t have the goodwill factor, the death warrant would already have been signed’

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NB |  'If he didn't have the goodwill factor, the death warrant would already have been signed'

After a success for Ferrari and Carlos Sainz, Max Verstappen took over again in Japan. At an appropriate distance from the Dutchman, there was enough overtaking in the sub-top and midfield. Red Bull Racing, meanwhile, excelled with lightning-fast pit stops, while Ferrari kept the sub-top teams at bay. In the rearguard there was more damage to Williams’ material and Daniel Ricciardo’s ego. Enough to discuss in the afterthoughts with editor-in-chief Mark Hanselman.

– Has Verstappen dealt a sledgehammer to the competition?

‘Verstappen ruled as usual, but if there is one circuit where you can prefix Verstappen’s name as the winner, it is Suzuka. There are many fast bends, which follow each other at such a rapid pace that you cannot see them separately, but as a combination. In addition, tire management is crucial: this circuit seems to have been designed for Verstappen. The rest will have already taken a Verstappen victory into account.’

‘I think Ferrari will leave Japan in good spirits. The Italian team knew that Suzuka would be a damage limitation weekend, and did an excellent job with P3 and P4. Ferrari will see some better opportunities in the coming races, because Suzuka is a typical Red Bull circuit, and for six months Ferrari performed poorly in Japan. I think Ferrari can regularly compete with Red Bull in the coming months. There is plenty of reason for optimism, but the problem is Verstappen.’

‘If you are as strong as Red Bull, Verstappen still stands out, and that is why there is little prospect of a world title for Carlos Sainz or Charles Leclerc. They have a better chance among the constructors, because I think they can outdo Pérez on certain circuits, and then you can make progress with two good drivers. Especially the circuits with softer tires, and especially the street circuits, will be circled in the Ferrari agenda.’

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NB |  'If he didn't have the goodwill factor, the death warrant would already have been signed'
These teams have to keep in pursuit for the time being.

‘The blow to the Mercedes teams will be bigger. McLaren still did well in Australia, but hoped to perform strongly again at Suzuka – a circuit that suited McLaren in 2023, but not Ferrari. Lando Norris came close to the Ferrari drivers, but P5 and P7 is a poor harvest on a favorable circuit. McLaren can still hope to challenge Ferrari, but that is not at all possible for Mercedes and Aston Martin.’

– Will Pérez take the initiative for a 2025 seat again?

‘As a current driver, he will always have an advantage with the team management. He only gets replaced if he doesn’t deliver, and so far he usually does. Still, I think Japan provided a distorted picture. Sergio Pérez can often keep up with Verstappen reasonably well if the car has a neutral balance or some understeer. As soon as the car is fine-tuned, Pérez drops out, and I don’t see why that would be any different this year.’

‘Japan was indicative of this: as Verstappen indicated, he first had some understeer, and then Pérez kept up with him well. However, do not forget that the Mexican also made a driver’s error there and went off at the second Degner bend. When the balance shifted more towards oversteer, Verstappen moved further out, and given the late fastest lap, the Limburger could have gone even faster. As the season progresses, the relatively new concept will continue to be fine-tuned and developed, and that’s where Pérez’s challenge comes in. I don’t expect him to finish second in the championship this year.’

– Does Red Bull as a team deserve a 10?

‘Yes, this was a very strong team performance. Sergio Pérez made a mistake early in the race, but otherwise we have not seen him that strong this season. Max Verstappen of course also did more than excellent, but that always applies to the world champion. For Red Bull, Australia was a rare miss, which put things on edge again.’

‘Red Bull achieved the maximum score with 44 points, but the most impressive thing about the weekend for me was the performance in the pit lane. The Austrian team made four pit stops, and these were the four fastest pit stops of the race, including the fastest stop of the season for Verstappen. You can tell that things have been put on edge again. With four pit stops within a tenth of a second of each other you are approaching perfection.’

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NB |  'If he didn't have the goodwill factor, the death warrant would already have been signed'
The photographer had just enough time for a photo.

‘Red Bull is hitting back after Ferrari and McLaren also set fast pit stops at the end of last season, including a new world record for the British team. This also sums up the challenge of beating Red Bull, let alone beating Verstappen. If you throw one punch, they’ll hit back three times as hard.”

– Is Wolff’s suspicion that a podium was feasible correct?

‘It is nice that Toto Wolff has regained his optimism, but I believe he needs to look for new glasses. The fact that Mercedes lacked speed was already evident from the choice of tires. After the restart, the team opted for the hard tires for both drivers, with the idea of ​​doing two stints on the hard tires after the tire regulations were already met on the opening lap – before the red flag. You usually choose such an alternative strategy, because you have the idea that you will not achieve much using the same strategy as the rest.’

‘The strategy itself was not wrong either. Charles Leclerc did manage to do it with a stint on the mediums. However, Mercedes was slower in the opening stint and had more wear on a harder tire. Mercedes’ deficit also indicates this. Yes, the second and third stints were better, but these stints were shortened because the first stint was much too long. Short stints and high tire wear make you appear fast, but that was not a true representation of the potential. George Russell also finished 25 seconds behind third man Carlos Sainz, so a trophy was really not an option.’

– Can Ricciardo be blamed for the mistake at the start?

‘The start mainly showed Daniel Ricciardo’s lack of self-confidence. The Australian relies on his self-confidence, but is now suffering from the fact that Yuki Tsunoda is regularly underestimated. Ricciardo probably also thought too easily about beating the little Japanese, and it is clear that his self-confidence has taken a big hit.’

‘He was surrounded by many drivers with soft tires, and therefore more grip, but things also went wrong at the start because he was severely braked by teammate Tsunoda, on the same medium tires. Then he got into a lot of trouble and looked very nervous for an experienced driver. Given the restraint in turn 2, he should at least be able to get a good exit, but there too he is trumped by Alexander Albon. As Verstappen indicated afterwards, Albon was in Ricciardo’s blind spot, but to steer to the right like that is not exactly smart and does not fit his experience. Qualifying went better than before, but if he didn’t have the goodwill factor, the death warrant would have already been signed.’

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