Max Verstappen could claim his second FIA Formula One World Championship title if he wins this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix with the fastest lap as home hero Yuki Tsunoda takes to the iconic Suzuka track for the first time in F1.
After a frustrating start to the 2022 season for Oracle Red Bull Racing at the Bahrain Grand Prix where both Verstappen and Mexican teammate Sergio Pérez finished out of the points, the dynamic duo roared straight back into contention with Verstappen’s 11 Grand Prix victories putting him 104 points clear of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and fellow Oracle Red Bull Racing teammate Pérez heading into Sunday’s race.
Verstappen – who has 31 Grand Prix victories, 73 podium finishes and 17 pole positions to his name –knows it won’t be an easy feat if he wants to celebrate his second title with Honda in Japan.
Verstappen revealed: “It was a bit of a shame last year that we couldn’t come back to Japan and really celebrate with Honda and all the fans, but we have another chance to win a championship so very much looking forward to the weekend.
I think not only to me but for the whole team and everyone involved, it would be really nice to win it here. We do need a perfect weekend to be able to do it, but we are going to give it everything we have.”
In terms of what makes Suzuka so special after he drove an F1 car for the first time for Toro Rosso in 2014’s FP1 and earned three F1 race podium finishes, Verstappen added: “A lot of fast corners. You cannot just go out there and smash it because you really have to build up your confidence. Also risk management because you know if you go off, you can be in the wall.”
A Verstappen win and a strong performance from Pérez would also inch Oracle Red Bull Racing closer to the 2022 Constructors’ Championship Title, their first in nine years.
Verstappen is not the only one with high expectations this weekend, local hero Tsunoda will be driving at Suzuka for the first time in an F1 car after previously racing on the track in Japanese F4.
The 22-year-old from Sagamihara finished 14th overall in his 2021 rookie season after seven points finishes and has three 2022 points finishes so far heading into the final five races.
Commenting on Tsunoda’s Scuderia AlphaTauri contract extension for the 2023 season, Verstappen said: “It’s great for the Japanese fans to have a Japanese driver and to have him within the Red Bull family is a bonus. He is a great guy; I think he deserves it, and I am sure that he can do even better next year with a little bit more experience.”
A strong performance from Tsunoda in front of his home fans will help Scuderia AlphaTauri in their fight with Aston Martin and Haas for seventh place in the 2022 constructors’ standings.