Fittipaldi Expects Max To Be Back On Top In Japan

The 2023 Singapore Grand Prix brought an end to Red Bull’s stranglehold on podium positions this season as Carlos Sainz raced to his second Grand Prix win.

The Ferrari driver’s race management skills drew widespread acclaim as he held on to his pole position from start to finish and fended off Lando Norris and the Mercedes pair of Lewis Hamilton and George Russell to get the win.

Max Verstappen, meanwhile, finished fifth - his first finish outside of a podium spot this season. The Dutch driver, however, is expected to be back on top as the grid heads to Suzuka for the Japanese Grand Prix.

Two-time F1 world champion Emerson Fittipaldi believes that Verstappen and Red Bull will be back to business on a conventional track.

Max Will Be Back With A Vengeance

The motorsport icon sees Verstappen and Red Bull being back with a vengeance at Suzuka and are likely to be at full strength.

He still, however, thinks that eight drivers could be fighting for podium positions judging by the races in Monza and Singapore.

"If you look at what happened to Red Bull in Singapore, I don't think that will happen to them in Japan. For sure Max will be back with a vengeance."

"It was very strange what happened to Red Bull at Singapore but they will be back to full strength in a conventional racetrack like Suzuka."

"If Singapore is to go by, we could have eight drivers fighting for top spots. Verstappen, Perez, Sainz, LeClerc, Hamilton, Russell, Norris and even Piastri. Very exciting."

Carlos Sainz Is In High-Performance Mode - LeClerc Needs To Improve

Speaking about Sainz and his performance at Singapore, Fittipaldi shared his opinion that the Spaniard is in high performance mode and is very focused.

"Carlos Sainz is in high-performance mode. At Monza, I saw Carlos Sainz Sr. and told him how impressed I have been with his son."

"From his interviews, Carlos Sainz seems to be very focused. Psychologically he's very well prepared. He was like that at Monza, where all of Italy and the tifosi's expectations play a role."

"Mentally, he's extremely well prepared for the battle."

Fittipaldi continued that Sainz’s form and preparation is likely to put pressure on LeClerc who needs to improve.

"I think it is difficult for Charles to have such a strong teammate. Sainz is so well prepared mentally."

"Charles knows that and Charles knows he has to improve. Any athlete at this level, there is no mercy. You have to improve all the time. You have to improve and fight. You have to see why he's doing this and why I cannot do it."

"He can do it, he's intelligent, he has the talent and he's able to recover. But he needs to deliver now."

Russell’s Mistake Was Caused By Fatigue But I Expect Him To Be Strong In Japan

The Brazilian F1 legend also spoke about Mercedes’ pair of Lewis Hamilton and George Russell and has backed them to be up there in Suzuka.

While he has been impressed by Russell’s speed, he still backs Hamilton as he’s able to recover on race day and work out a good result regardless of the issues he’s facing.

“What normally happens when you look at statistics, Lewis Hamilton will always recover no matter how bad it looks. Whether it’s a less than ideal starting position, or traffic, Hamilton is able to get a good result.”

“But it will be interesting to see. Hamilton, Carlos, LeClerc, Russell and Piastri who is a new Formula 1 driver with great potential. It's very interesting and they might give Lewis a hard time.”

On Russell’s mistake in Singapore that denied him a podium, Fittipaldi is of the opinion that it came down to fatigue and this is something that he can learn from in the future.

He also shared an anecdote when he talked to Ayrton Senna when he crashed while leading in Monaco. Senna said that he relaxed and lost focus while Russell was focused and went a bit over the limit.

"It was a shame that Russell just touched the outside break into the corner. That's the typical mistake of what I call the fatigue of a race. It's difficult to hit the outside before turning into the corner."

"There was a lot of stress as all four cars were running so close to each other in the last three-four laps and Russell just missed, I'd say by one inch. It can happen."

"That's the fatigue, mentally, on a driver."

"When I used to race in Monaco or other street circuits like Long Beach, I'd say sometimes I painted my tires white and I think Russell was going to paint the front tires white but it was a little too much paint."

"I remember talking to Ayrton at Monaco and he was leading by a long way and then boom! He crashed. He told me, "Emerson, I relaxed." And you relax and you crash."

"Russell was the opposite. He was under pressure and fighting and he just missed."

“I think that humans will always make mistakes. Russell is always very focused even though he was under tremendous pressure.”

Image Credit: IMAGO/ Laci Perenyi