Horner: Verstappen was planning to win F1 Japanese GP “by 20 seconds” four days before the race

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Team principal and CEO of Red Bull Racing, Christian Horner revealed Max Verstappen was “fired up” after his defeat at the Singapore GP, and had a comfortable, “by 20 seconds” race win in mind already on the Wednesday of the Japanese GP week, two days before a wheel was even turned in the legendary Suzuka circuit, and four days before the race itself.

Photo Credits: Red Bull Content Pool

Red Bull’s incredible winning run in Formula 1 that stretched all the way back to the 2022 Abu Dhabi GP came to an abrupt end at the 2023 Singapore GP, when neither of their drivers even finished on the podium as the team struggled to get the all-conquering RB19 in a good working window around the tight streets of Marina Bay, and championship leader Max Verstappen also saw an end to his record-breaking run of 10 consecutive grand prix victories, amidst rumours that FIA’s recent clampdown on flexible aero components – that came into force in Singapore – bridged the previously huge gap between Red Bull and the rest.

But all of that only got Verstappen and the team more “fired up” to strike back in Japan according to Horner, and a crushing performance from the Dutchman saw him take pole position by nearly six tenths of a second and win the race by over 19 seconds confirmed the team has lost none of its supreme pace that’s been on show all season long.

Speaking to selected media after the race in Suzuka, Horner revealed Verstappen was thinking of a big winning margin already on the Wednesday ahead of the race, such was his motivation to give an answer to his and the team’s critics:

“I think, sometimes, the races you lose are the weekends you learn the most at, [and Singapore] was a big reminder for everybody that it’s very easy to miss the target,” said Horner. “We all left Singapore knowing that ultimately the winning run that we had would come to an end, but a little frustrated.

“I played padel with Max [Verstappen] on Wednesday [ahead of the Japanese GP], and he was properly fired up, and made it clear by saying ‘I want to win the race by 20 seconds’ – and in fairness he came within 0.7s of achieving that, had it not been for a blue flag there at the end.”

The 49-year-old said Verstappen’s motivation was clear since first practice, when the Dutchman had a comfortable margin over the rest of the field in his very first flying lap despite using the hardest compound in Pirelli’s range for the weekend, and heaped praise over his pole position, going even as far as saying it is “up there” as one of the best pole laps ever in Formula One:

“You could tell from the very first lap in FP1, where on the hard tyre he was 1.8 seconds quicker than the rest of the field on medium or soft tyres at that point,” he added. “He was totally focused on this event, it’s a circuit that he loves and enjoys, and I think it’s one of the ultimate drivers’ circuit as a test [of ability] around here.

“It was an outstanding performance. His laps in qualifying, particularly the final lap, will stand out and it’s gotta be up there as one of the best laps of all time in qualifying,” he affirmed. “And then he converted that [into a win] after not the best of getaways, but he was able to hang on to the lead and then thereafter build a very commanding lead and control the race.

“He’s just a racer, he doesn’t need a lot of motivation. But he certainly came here very keen to reestablish the season that he’s been having,” he concluded.

Verstappen’s crushing performance in Japan meant the team was able to secure its sixth constrcutors’ world title despite Sergio Perez being unable to score any points after a self-inflicted incident-packed start to his race meant he had to retire his car early on.