Thanks to an offset strategy, Max Verstappen spent most of last weekend’s Russian Grand Prix leading the race after starting from P19 on the grid, eventually finishing in fifth. So with no engine penalties forecast for Sunday's Japanese event, is the Dutchman expecting a repeat of his 2017 podium success in Suzuka? Ahead of the race weekend, he wasn’t taking anything for granted.
Verstappen’s Red Bull team have an admirable record around Suzuka, with at least one of their drivers on every podium in Japan bar one since 2009. Despite that, in a 2018 season where Ferrari and Mercedes have tended to be comfortably ahead on ‘standard’ race tracks – i.e. away from street circuits like Monaco – the fight for podium places has been an uphill struggle for Verstappen and team mate Daniel Ricciardo.
And Verstappen’s prediction ahead of Sunday’s race was that Red Bull remained an outside bet to step up to the rostrum in Suzuka.
“Coming from two podiums here, you should say it’s quite okay for us,” said Verstappen, who’s finished second in Japan for the past two seasons. “I think last year, we were normally fifth or sixth fastest, but because of the penalties around us that promoted us a bit. I expect us to be closer, but we need a bit of luck to be on the podium.”