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Auto Racing  

Verstappen hopes to end his Formula 1 'losing' streak on a Japan GP track suited to his car

After one loss in a row, runaway Formula One leader Max Verstappen is confident he can get back to his winning ways at this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix.

The Red Bull driver saw his record streak of 10 consecutive wins end in Singapore last weekend when he finished fifth. Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz won at Marina Bay, knocking Red Bull off the podium for the first time this year.

Unlike the street circuit in Singapore, Suzuka is a high-speed track far more suited to Verstappen’s car. The Dutchman wrapped up his second consecutive championship in Japan last year.

“Singapore is so different to what we will experience here in terms of the way you set up the car, so I’m also not worried that a weekend like that will upset our weekend here,” Verstappen said.

Despite his worst result since last November, Verstappen increased his championship lead to 151 points over Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez, who finished eighth in Singapore.

With seven races remaining, including three sprints, there are 206 points on offer, meaning Verstappen cannot close out the title in Japan this weekend. The earliest he can seal his third championship is in Qatar on Oct. 8.

While Verstappen can’t wrap up the drivers’ championship, Red Bull has more than twice as many points as the second-place team in the constructors’ championship and can win the title this weekend if the team outscores Mercedes by at least one point.

Last year, Verstappen became only the 13th driver in history to win the drivers’ championship in consecutive years when he won the Japanese GP. He won the rain-shortened race and secured the title when Charles Leclerc was given a penalty for cutting a chicane on the final lap, dropping the Ferrari driver down to third.

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton, third in Singapore and the drivers’ standings, has a history of success in Japan. He is a five-time winner of the Japanese GP, most recently in 2018.

But Hamilton is fully aware how tough Red Bull will be at Suzuka this weekend.

“I would think that if they’re not 30 seconds ahead like they have done in the past then something’s up,” he said. “But no, I think as Checo (Sergio Perez) said, it was obviously a difficult weekend their last one, but their car should be phenomenal here.”

VERSTAPPEN LEADS PRACTICE

Verstappen was fastest in both practice sessions on Friday, leading Sainz by over six-tenths of a second in the first and .320 ahead of Leclerc in the second. McLaren driver Lando Norris was third in the second practice.

“It felt really good today, from lap one the car was enjoyable to drive again,” Verstappen said. “We’ve had a strong day on the short and long runs. There’s a lot of degradation on this track so it will be quite tough on tires during the race, but so far, we’ve had a good start to the weekend.”

There was a late red flag in the session when Alpine driver Pierre Gasly locked up and crashed into a wall with two minutes left on the clock. He exited the car on his own and was unhurt.

Qualifying is on Saturday.

A front row start is a significant boost at Suzuka where the winner has only come from behind the front row once in the past 12 races held here — Valtteri Bottas from third in 2019.

Rain played havoc in last year’s race but Friday’s practice sessions were mostly dry and good weather is forecast for the weekend.

TSUNODA BATTLING FOR SEAT

Formula One’s only Japanese driver arrived in his homeland with his future for the 2024 season uncertain.

Yuki Tsunoda has had a difficult time in his last two races. He failed to start the Italian Grand Prix because of mechanical issues and then didn’t complete a racing lap in Singapore following contact with Perez.

“Monza was things I really couldn’t control,” Tsunoda said ahead of Friday’s practice. “Singapore, obviously there was room to improve for myself but it just didn’t work out in the end. Things happened that I cannot really control so now, I’ll just re-set and think positive.”

He has only three points this season and AlphaTauri is last in the constructors’ standings with only five points.

Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo replaced Nyck de Vries at Red Bull’s junior team in July. The eight-time Grand Prix winner is considered a lock to have one of the two seats at AlphaTauri for the 2024 season.

Ricciardo made his return at the Hungarian Grand Prix but broke a bone in his hand at the Dutch GP at Zandvoort. He was in Singapore with the team in a supporting role when New Zealander Liam Lawson stepped in for the third race in a row.

Heading into the summer break, Tsunoda was a favorite to retain his seat for a fourth campaign but when Ricciardo crashed at Zandvoort and was replaced by Lawson, things changed.

Lawson has gone on to finish 13th and 11th before scoring points in Singapore.

Red Bull and AlphaTauri are mulling their options knowing Tsunoda is backed by Honda, which works with both Red Bull teams on their power unit until the end of 2025.

“It’s quite scary now talking about the drivers’ lineup,” Tsunoda said. “I’m in the Red Bull family so I want to stay part of Red Bull. My loyalty lies with Honda and Red Bull. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them.”

PIASTRI EXTENDS WITH McLAREN

Australian driver Oscar Piastri has signed a contract with McLaren until the end of 2026. Piastri already had a deal to race with the British team in 2024 but his performances have been so strong this year, McLaren wanted to firm up his long-term future.

The 22-year-old claimed his first top-three finish in F1 when he secured second in the sprint in Belgium and has scored points on six occasions.

In Singapore, he fought back from 17th to finish seventh. McLaren is fifth in the constructors’ standings with 139 points.

“I am thrilled to be extending my partnership with McLaren for many years,” Piastri said. “I want to be fighting it out at the front of the grid with this team.”

McLaren chief executive Zak Brown added: “Oscar is already proving what he can do out on track and has been instrumental in the turnaround we’ve had so far this season.”

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AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing



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