Formula 1: Verstappen's title setting: Otherwise next time

Max Verstappen couldn't help but grin as he held the Japanese fan's poster right in front of his face.

Formula 1: Verstappen's title setting: Otherwise next time

Max Verstappen couldn't help but grin as he held the Japanese fan's poster right in front of his face.

"World Champion 2022 MAX" was read in the Suzuka paddock. It's not that far yet, but for the first time the Red Bull star has it in his own hands at the Grand Prix on Sunday (7 a.m. / Sky) to become champion for the second time and to successfully defend his title early on. "It would be very nice if it works here. But if not, then it might work even more likely in the next race," said Verstappen, who had the chance last week but isn't putting any more pressure on himself: "I don't really think so think about it a lot."

Verstappen has a comfortable lead

The 25-year-old doesn't have to either. With five races to go and a whopping 104 points ahead of Ferrari star Charles Leclerc, promotion to the elite circle of multiple world champions is only a matter of time. Verstappen needs 112 points of padding after the upcoming Grand Prix on Leclerc. If he gets at least eight points more than Monegasque and six more than teammate Sergio Perez in Suzuka, everything is already clear.

This would succeed, among other things, if the dominator wins when he returns to Japan after a two-year Corona break and drives the fastest lap of the race. Other possibilities are also conceivable, it is important that he stays ahead of Leclerc and Perez, otherwise there will be chance number three in two weeks at the Austin race in the USA.

"Realistically, Max will probably be the champion, if it doesn't happen here then it will be very soon," said Leclerc, who was almost beaten. But Verstappen knows: "We need a perfect weekend to make it work, that's for sure." And that could be difficult. In training, Verstappen had to admit defeat to the two Mercedes drivers George Russell and Lewis Hamilton in third place. On Friday in rainy Japan, Russell set the fastest time of 1:41.935 minutes ahead of his British compatriot Hamilton. Verstappen was 0.851 seconds behind Russell.

Even during the practice drives it poured incessantly, and there should also be such conditions in the race. Even more than usual, driving skills are required. In the past two years, he has proven often enough that Verstappen has it. However, he has not yet won in Japan. His attempt at a maiden victory on a track he had not yet conquered failed last Sunday when he only finished seventh in Singapore.

Verstappen: "It's an incredible track"

Between the two races in the Far East, Verstappen relaxed in Tokyo. He was out and about for almost three days with his girlfriend Kelly, enjoyed the good food, went shopping and just relaxed through the streets before continuing on to Suzuka. Like all other drivers, Verstappen loves the traditional circuit. The first sector is the nicest of the season for the pilots. "I'm really looking forward to it. It's an incredible track and there are incredible fans," said Verstappen: "I'm very happy to be here. It would make it special if it works here because of our relationship with Honda."

Red Bull's long-standing engine partner had the track built, and the Japanese car manufacturer's Honda plants are still omnipresent in the city today and take up a lot of space on the way to the circuit. Verstappen received a correspondingly friendly welcome and was celebrated by the enthusiastic fans. Last year he clinched the first Formula 1 title with a Honda engine since the legendary Brazilian Ayrton Senna in 1991.

However, Verstappen has to do without the support of the euphoric Dutch fans in the stands. Due to the strict entry rules due to the corona pandemic, it is impossible to just come into the country. Verstappen has actually been following thousands of members of the “Orange Army” since last year. This time it will be much quieter. But Verstappen obviously doesn't want to celebrate big when he wins the title anyway, preferring to get a quick flight back to Europe on Sunday evening.