Verstappen doubts Japanese GP victory possible even with late charge

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Max Verstappen doubts he could have won Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix despite the charge that saw him put pressure on Mercedes Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton late on at Suzuka.

Verstappen moved from fourth on the grid to second on the opening lap where he remained for much of the race, sitting five seconds back from Hamilton heading into the closing stages.

Hamilton struggled with lapped traffic and a vibration on his tire, allowing Verstappen to close up with two laps to go and run nose-to-tail with the Mercedes racer.

Verstappen came unstuck through traffic and ultimately crossed the line 1.2 seconds behind Hamilton, but said after the race he never felt he could take the win.

“I could see Lewis was managing his tires and of course, with the traffic it just seems like it was a bit more difficult for him to follow other cars, compared to me,” Verstappen explained.

“So I closed up, but also when you are really close you start to lose a lot of downforce, so I couldn’t really attack him. But at least I tried.

“At the end of the day I think I wouldn’t have passed Lewis anyway, because it’s really hard once he’s in free air. It was more like when Lewis was getting held up then I could close up and then maybe you can do something.

“But once he got past, even when I got held up, it’s done. It’s of course not ideal but it wouldn’t have made a difference.”

The result marked Verstappen’s second straight podium following his victory in Malaysia last weekend, with the Dutchman taking confidence from the progress Red Bull has made with its car recently.

“I think the car lately in the race has been really competitive. I think like Lewis said, we have a bit more wing, so we are quite competitive through the corners,” Verstappen said.

“Of course then on the straight we have an even bigger deficit than normal, but it seems to work for us in the race so far.

“Of course I’m happy to be here on the podium again. It seems like Suzuka is pretty good to me.”