Sergio Perez says he is confident of producing a strong showing in this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix despite being heavily outclassed on Friday by Max Verstappen.

Red Bull is bidding to bounce back after a challenging weekend in Singapore last time out that saw the reigning World Champions get beaten for the first time in 2023.

However, the Austrian outfit’s RB19 has returned to its usual position of superiority at the Suzuka circuit, with Verstappen completing a Friday clean sweep.

But Perez appeared to be struggling in contrast to his team-mate. The Mexican ended up outside the top 10 in the opening practice hour, 1.3s down on Verstappen, before only improving to ninth in FP2 and remaining a whole second adrift.

Nevertheless, having overcome some minor balance issues early on, Perez is optimistic his side of the Red Bull garage understands which direction to take with set-up overnight.

“It was very interesting,” Perez reflected. “I think this morning we were a bit off balance on our side, and I think we have some very good understanding of the direction we need to take, certainly things are looking better than they did last week which is positive.”

Perez has consistently encountered trouble with qualifying strongly this season, enduring a run of failing to progress to Q3 at five consecutive events earlier on in the season.

The Red Bull driver will be aiming to avoid any such problems tomorrow amid tyre wear concerns for the drivers in Sunday’s race.

“Look forward to qualify well tomorrow because degradation seems to be quite high around this place, especially with the hot temperatures we are expecting,” he added.

Asked if he believes Red Bull will be back in the fight for pole position tomorrow after both drivers were eliminated in Q2 in Singapore, Perez responded: “Yes, I do believe that we are gonna be strong tomorrow and also on Sunday.”

Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing RB19. 22.09.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 17, Japanese Grand Prix, Suzuka, Japan, Practice Day.

Meanwhile, Verstappen sustained a flawless first day of running in Japan, immediately setting the benchmark pace in FP1 and then also posting the quickest time in FP2.

Following complaints over a lack of grip and braking instability at the Marina Bay Circuit, the Dutchman expressed content with the handling of his car again around Suzuka.

“It felt really good today” Verstappen summarised. “From lap one, the car was enjoyable to drive again. 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 I think on tyre in the race. But so far, I think we have a good start to the weekend.”

While Verstappen believes the battle behind is set to be intense, the reigning champion is fixated on optimising his performance as he aims to return to the top step of the podium.

“It looks like it’s all a bit tight behind me, between Ferrari, McLaren are close,” he assessed. “We’ll have a look.

“But I think at the end of the day, we just focus on ourselves and try to optimize our performance, and if we do that, I’m confident that we’ll fight for pole here.”

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