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Formula 1 Japanese GP

Verstappen: Red Bull F1 car "enjoyable to drive again" after Singapore struggle

Max Verstappen says his Red Bull Formula 1 car is "enjoyable to drive again" as he bounced back from a difficult Singapore weekend by topping practice in Suzuka.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19

Verstappen led both of Friday's free practice sessions for the Japanese Grand Prix, ending the day 0.320 seconds clear of Ferrari's Charles Leclerc and nearly half a second up on McLaren's Lando Norris.

The Dutchman came out of the gates strong in FP1 as well as he recovered from an off-kilter weekend at last week's Singapore GP, where he struggled to make Q3 and then finished fifth, consigning Red Bull to its first defeat of the 2023 season.

But on Friday Red Bull quickly allayed any fears that its Singapore struggles had carried over to the vastly different Suzuka layout.

"It felt really good today. From lap one the car was enjoyable to drive again," Verstappen said.

"It seems like we had a strong day, on short runs, long runs... There's a lot of degradation on this track, so it will be quite tough on tyres in the race. But so far we had a good start to the weekend."

Before the weekend both Verstappen and Mercedes' George Russell had singled out McLaren as Red Bull's biggest threat, but Ferrari also appeared to be competitive again following Sainz's breakthrough Singapore win.

"It looks like it's all a bit tight behind me. Ferrari and McLaren are close, so we'll have a look," Verstappen offered.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

"But I think at the end of the day, we just focus on ourselves and try to optimise our performance. And then if we do that, then I'm confident that we can fight for pole."

In the second Red Bull Sergio Perez had a less straightforward day after balance problems in FP1 were only partially addressed in FP2, as the Mexican finished ninth and a full second down on his team-mate.

"We had problems with the balance of the car in FP1, we tried to improve it a bit in FP2," Perez said.

"I think we have some pretty good understanding of the direction we need to take.

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"Certainly, things are looking a lot better than they were last weekend which is positive.

"I look forward to qualifying well tomorrow because the degradation seems to be quite high around this place, especially with the hot temperatures we are expecting.

"I do believe that we were going to be a strong tomorrow and also on Sunday."

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