Sky F1 consultant Damon Hill believes next weekend’s Japanese GP will represent a decisively indicative test for Red Bull’s rivals and especially Ferrari.

In Australia last time out, the Scuderia and Carlos Sainz inflicted on Red Bull its first defat of 2024, just as they did in Singapore last year.

However, many believe that Max Verstappen’s early DNF in Melbourne due to a right rear brake failure handed Ferrari a clear path to the Italian outfit’s 244th Grand Prix win.

Hill reckons that’s Suzuka’s high-speed layout will throw down a significant challenge for Red Bull’s pursuers.

While Ferrari’s surprise victory in Australia ignited hopes of a more competitive season, all eyes are now on whether the Italian outfit can carry that momentum to Suzuka, a track historically dominated by the bulls.

Hill is eager to see a true head-to-head battle unfold between the two teams. The 1996 F1 world champion sees Ferrari’s tyre degradation and the aerodynamic efficiency of its SF-24 design as the main points that will be tested by the venue’s demanding characteristics.

While Hill anticipates Verstappen remaining the favorite for pole position, Sunday’s scenario could be a different story.

“I think this is going to be a big test for the competition against Red Bull at Suzuka,” Hill said on the F1 Nation podcast.

“I think this is really going to test the aero efficiency, tyre wear efficiency in the car as well.

“But Ferrari are quick in a straight line, and it is a lot of straight line, a lot of high-speed stuff in Suzuka, and what I really hope is that Ferrari are able to take the race to Red Bull during the actual race itself.

“I think qualifying will still see Max on pole by probably a similar amount, two tenths, maybe three tenths or something like that.

“The question is whether Ferrari have got good tyre deg, and we’ll be watching the FP1/2/3 on that one, to get some clues.

“But you have to say, the question is always going to be asked, did they win in Melbourne because Max broke down? We’ll never know the answer – so we need to get them to beat Max in a straight race.”

Hill sees a proper litmus test ahead for the Scuderia. But if the latter is victorious in a straight fight against Red Bull, it would at least prove the vulnerability of the reigning world champions.

“Once that happens, and I think they’re getting close – I think we’re getting close to that,” Hill added.

“And that may be wishful thinking on my part, not because I don’t want Max to win anything, I just want to see some racing, and I want to see a championship open up.

“But if they do, wow, that would be really shocking for the whole of Formula 1, because it means that something can be done about this Red Bull runaway.”

In addition to Ferrari, Hill is keeping an eye on McLaren, noting team papaya’s “solid” progress with each passing race.

“They are making progress and looking more and more solid with every race that goes by,” Hill said.

“They weren’t happy with their first race at Bahrain and they were saying that they’ve got some changes, but they learned a lot in that first race.

“I think they’re gradually making some progress. They were strong, although they were unhappy with Saudi Arabia with their speed.

“They got their setup, I think, wrong for the aero setup for Saudi, but they seem to have got things in the sweet spot for Melbourne.”

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