The Japanese Grand Prix offers the Dutchman a second chance to mathematically confirm a successful title defence. Last weekend’s race in Singapore was his first opportunity, but a qualifying error from Red Bull and a tricky race in treacherous conditions meant that the champagne was left on ice.
Verstappen is still all-but confirmed to have won back-to-back titles, though. He will make sure of it this weekend at Suzuka if he wins the race and takes the extra point for fastest lap – anything less and he will be reliant upon the results of his closest rivals Charles Leclerc and Sergio Perez.
While he would certainly prefer to make sure of the title at the earliest opportunity, Verstappen knows it will not be the end of the world if he is made to wait a little longer. “It would be very nice if it happens here but if it doesn’t, it will be even more in favour at the next race,” he told reporters.
“It doesn’t really change anything – you just try to maximise everything you can. I need a perfect weekend to clinch the title here but to be honest I am not really thinking about it too much.”
Winning the title with four races remaining would see Verstappen complete one of the most dominant seasons in F1 history. Sebastian Vettel was the last driver to manage that feat in 2011, and the only other racers who can claim to have done better are Nigel Mansell and Michael Schumacher.
Leclerc can make sure Verstappen is forced to wait if he can take the fastest lap point away from the Dutchman, or take advantage if the Red Bull star is not able to win the race. But still he knows he would only be delaying the inevitable.
“Realistically, Max is going to be champion – if it’s not this weekend, it is going to be very soon,” said the Monegasque. “We need to focus on ourselves and try to exercise well the Sunday. We have always been strong and the performance has always been good enough to fight for wins apart from some off-weekends, and there weren’t many.
“But it is about putting everything together – strategy and tyre management – and this is what we are fighting for at the moment and it is the step we will need to do next year in order to fight for the championship.”