Verstappen’s Singapore woe sets up a dream scenario in Japan

Can Max Verstappen seal the title this weekend in Japan on a track that should suit his car very well

Can Max Verstappen seal the title this weekend in Japan on a track that should suit his car very well

Formula 1 had a mini-break after its post-summer triple-header and returned with a lot going on in Singapore and – I’m sure Japan will be no different. Max Verstappen’s potential title coronation and a massive budget cap controversy mean there’s lots to follow on-track and off it.

A “terrible” weekend in Singapore – his words, not mine – means Verstappen missed his first chance to wrap up the 2022 championship. I suspected it would go to Japan anyway and now it has. The permutations are simple, too. If Verstappen wins this weekend with fastest lap he is world champion. It would be a stylish way to win it and it’s entirely realistic to think he can do it.

To win it in Singapore he needed to take the victory there and have Charles Leclerc finish eighth/ninth or lower with Sergio Perez off the podium. Of course, Checo and Charles were first and second respectively, with Verstappen the one well down the order! Red Bull’s poorly managed end to qualifying left Verstappen starting eighth and an anti-stall issue at the launch meant he spent the first stint in the middle of the pack. It barely got better from there and Verstappen made his own error as well mid-race, trying to pass Lando Norris off-line as the track dried and flying down the escape road.

At the front, Perez did a brilliant job in Verstappen’s absence. He’s got a good record on street tracks and this came at a good time for he had been in a difficult spell. Suzuka will be a bigger test of whether Perez has made real progress in understanding the updated RB18 and can turn this into a run of better form.

He’s at a good place for it. The Red Bull should be potent at Suzuka. All signs point to a happy homecoming for Honda – OK, it may not officially be in F1 anymore, but it’s still there in the background and the engines are still in the car. The Japanese manufacturer didn’t get to race in Suzuka in its farewell season in 2021 so this is a grand homecoming and celebration.
It would be very appropriate for Honda for its engines to win the championship in Japan when the manufacturer is not officially around to truly bask in the glory! But I think we’ll have news soon that Honda is ‘back’ in F1.

Honda will have a little bit more branding on the Red Bull cars as of this weekend and the same for next season as part of a new deal running to the end of 2025. After that, maybe Honda will commit to being part of the 2026 engine regulations after all. This week there was a big meeting in Tokyo between Red Bull and Honda about working together on the 2026 power unit. Maybe it will turn out that Honda’s ‘exit’ never actually happens at all.

There’s another big story to talk about this week as well. It’s happening off-track. The FIA was expected to announce the end of its 2021 budget cap analysis this week but I hear that is likely to be knocked back.The suggestion in Singapore was that two teams committed a budget cap offence for 2021, controversially said to be Red Bull and Aston Martin. Red Bull denies it had overspent and insisted its submission to the FIA, which was below the cap, was correct. Aston Martin was surprised to be spoken of in the same terms as Red Bull – and to be fair, supposedly it will be a ‘procedural’ issue.

There was a lot of speculation about this in Singapore and it left Red Bull furious. We need to find out who was correct. Mercedes and Ferrari want the FIA to come down hard on any offenders and this case will set a very important precedent for F1 and the budget cap as a whole.