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Verstappen expects ‘closer’ challenge from rivals despite 'good start' for Red Bull at Suzuka

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SUZUKA, JAPAN - APRIL 05: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing prepares to

While pleased with his start to the Japanese Grand Prix weekend, Max Verstappen believes Red Bull will face more of a battle at this year’s event compared to their recent dominance at Suzuka.

Verstappen has claimed pole position and victory during the last two Grands Prix at the fast, flowing venue, including a particularly commanding display in 2023 that saw him top qualifying by more than half a second and then finish almost 20 seconds clear of the competition on race day.

FP2: Piastri sets fastest time as rain leads to limited running during second practice in Japan

Fresh from a painful retirement in Australia, the Dutchman stated his intentions by setting the pace in a dry but cool FP1, a couple of tenths clear of team mate Sergio Perez and Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, before rain struck in the build-up to FP2.

Verstappen wary of rivals as ‘everyone is a bit closer compared to last year’

“I think it was a good start for us,” said Verstappen after jumping out of the car. “The balance wasn’t too far out, so I think that’s always a great way to start. But it does look like everyone is a bit closer compared to last year.

“Then, of course, in FP2 we couldn’t really do anything. Still a few things to look at, to try, but overall I’m quite happy with that FP1.”

AS IT HAPPENED: Follow all the action from second practice for the Japanese Grand Prix

Asked if he was surprised at the relatively small gaps, Verstappen added: “Well, I think in general, already the whole year over one lap it seems like people definitely got closer.

“Of course, the long-run pace, again I have no clue how that will look, but I don’t expect gaps to be like they were last year here at this track.

‘We are confident’ – Perez says wet weather hasn’t dampened Red Bull’s hopes at Suzuka

Perez shared similar feelings to Verstappen as he also looks to bounce back from a disappointing weekend in Melbourne that saw him take the chequered flag in fifth position.

“It was a good session overall,” said the Mexican. “I was pleased with the car, I think we got it in a nice window. We obviously did some changes for FP2 which unfortunately we didn’t get a nice read [on].

WATCH: Sargeant crash brings out red flags during FP1 in Suzuka

“I think we did the most we could in FP1. I think we’re in a very similar boat to a lot of people around us, so I think we’ll wait for tomorrow to have a better read.”

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