Max Verstappen has certainly put to rest any doubts at Suzuka, affirming that the issues in Singapore are now behind him.
The Dutch driver was not just seven-tenths ahead of the McLarens during the qualifying rounds; he was nearly a full second quicker than his own Red Bull teammate, Sergio Perez.
“All I can say is that our cars are equal,” he said when asked about the large gap to Perez.
But Verstappen has completely dispelled any theories that the FIA’s restrictions on movable aerodynamics had adversely impacted Red Bull.
“We had a bad weekend,” he said. “Of course then people start saying ‘ah, it’s all because of the technical directives’. I think they can go suck on an egg.”
Arriving in Japan, the 25-year-old was clearly “energised” to counter his detractors, with Red Bull’s team advisor Dr Helmut Marko in agreement: “Max was really highly motivated here and wanted to show it.
“He has shown here that he is the fastest and the best,” Marko told ORF.
“Everything else is back on track.”
For every other driver in the field, Verstappen’s showing is a tough act to follow.
“I drove an almost perfect lap and still the gap is huge,” said Charles Leclerc, whose teammate Carlos Sainz had won in Singapore just a week earlier.
Lewis Hamilton thinks that Suzuka is yet another glaring indicator that Mercedes needs to overhaul its existing car design.
“We have too much downforce at the front and too little at the rear,” he said. “You can’t solve that with upgrades. You need a new car concept for that.”
“But after two years the gap to Verstappen is still one second and that’s worrying for next year,” Hamilton added.
Ferrari’s team principal Frederic Vasseur thinks it’s the same story at Maranello.
“At this late stage of development you only make small progress with upgrades. To make big ones you would have to work on the architecture of the car,” said the Frenchman.
McLaren appears to be the closest challenger to Red Bull this weekend, but its team boss Andrea Stella noted that the six-tenths gap between Oscar Piastri and Verstappen “corresponds to the balance of power”.
“If Max leads at the start, he’ll drive his own race,” he said.
McLaren has made significant strides in 2023 by copying Red Bull’s lead in car concept, but Stella admitted: “It’s not just about adding more downforce.
“We also need to intervene with the chassis. But that’s a project for next year.”
Even if other teams manage to catch up to Red Bull, dealing with Verstappen will likely remain a different story.
“I’ve never seen a driver go 17kph faster than the others mid-corner,” said former Red Bull driver Robert Doornbos on Ziggo Sport.