George Russell has tipped McLaren and Lando Norris to be the second force behind Red Bull across the Japanese Grand Prix weekend.
While McLaren began the campaign struggling to even score points, a series of upgrades from Austria onwards has elevated the Woking side into podium contention.
Further updates to its MCL60 car in Singapore enabled Norris to score his third second-place finish of the year, edging out the Mercedes drivers, who stopped for a second time in pursuit of the victory.
Russell, who crashed out from third place on the final lap at the Marina Bay Circuit, suspects McLaren’s strength in high-speed corners will serve it well at Suzuka and hand it the edge over Mercedes and Ferrari.
Meanwhile, the one-time Formula 1 race winner also anticipates Red Bull returning to its usual position at the top of the order. The reigning World Champions endured a nightmare showing last weekend, failing to take victory for the first time in 2023.
“I think it’s going to be a close fight with Ferrari and McLaren,” Russell assessed. “I think Lando could tend to be the favourite this weekend with their high-speed performance.
“I think when you look at Silverstone and the 230km/h region corners, they were exceptionally quick. They were two, two and a half times quicker than the majority of the field in each of those corners, a tenth quicker than Red Bull in those corners, yeah.
“With Red Bull I expect Lando to be sort of next best and obviously depends on Red Bull I think that was purely a one-off [in Singapore]. I expect them to be back to their winning ways or at least to the top of the field.
“But if they’re not, that would be, yeah, a lot of question marks been raised if they have another weekend like last week. But I don’t expect it.”
Norris has echoed his compatriot’s view on Red Bull’s pace, but the British ace has chosen to remain coy on deciphering McLaren’s prospects for this weekend.
When asked whether the British squad will carry its Singapore form into Japan, Norris replied: “It’s tough to say. I don’t know. I want to believe so. I think everything did it was what it was meant to do. And I think we definitely took some steps forward.
“I don’t think we’re confident in saying we’re as quick as Red Bull. I think Red Bull will probably be dominant this weekend. But I think comparing us to Ferrari and Mercedes then Mercedes have been just a lot more consistent than what we have. We still fluctuate quite a bit.
“On a good weekend we can be very, very good and maybe a little bit ahead, like we’ve seen in Silverstone and things like that. But on the whole Mercedes have probably been the second best car this season, then Ferrari and then us so far.
“We’re getting there. It’s still a very different circuit to Singapore with these upgrades. So there’s all things for us to find out and analyse from Suzuka.”