Improbable situations, unfathomable rules, excitable presenters, and extraordinary vehicles. No, it’s not another Formula One reality show, it’s round three of the most formidable F1 competition outside of F1: the (Un)serious Race Series – The Super Ultimate Japanese Racing Challenge Show.
The 2023 off-circuit series, which stops off in Japan for this episode, features Oracle Red Bull Racing and Scuderia AlphaTauri drivers pitted against each other in peculiarly local vehicles. Having recently concluded a fun and unique cleaning cart challenge in Singapore, F1 World Drivers’ Championship leader Max Verstappen and Checo Perez take on local hero Yuki Tsundoa and up and comer, Liam Lawson across a series of challenges in a couple of very small trucks. Known as Kei trucks, the tiny, flatbed utility vehicles are normally seen ferrying (quite small) piles of goods around the narrow streets of towns and villages all across Japan.
Four competitive drivers, some elaborate, oversized props, and an overly excitable host set a scene that channeled the spirit of Japan’s craziest game shows.
Assembling for battle at Tokyo’s Ariake Stadium, Max, Checo, and Liam were keenly aware of Yuki’s current (Un)Serious Series dominance, with the Japanese driver reigning unbeaten across the first two events, in Miami and Spielberg. If they were going to beat the hometown hero in exacting challenges such as knocking down some supersized bowling pins, they’d have to bring their A-game – and a massive inflatable ball.
And they did. After a series of surprising challenges, it was Max and Checo who emerged victorious, shattering Yuki’s unbroken run and on the Scuderia AlphaTauri driver’s home turf, too.
Celebrating the win, Checo said: “It’s been a funny day, it’s great being part of the Red Bull family as we get to do lots of crazy events around the world, I’d have never expected to be doing this challenge here in Tokyo. I just wish the kei trucks had more downforce [laughs].”
Fellow winner Max added: “First and foremost it’s important to mention that we finally won the challenge. The kei trucks have been fun to drive, I haven’t quite found the DRS yet though. It’s been good preparation for the race this weekend, I have a lot of special memories from Suzuka, my favorite memory is of course winning the championship here and also driving in my first-ever official practice session too – on a track like this, it wasn’t the easiest but is something I will remember forever.”
Even with a competitive advantage of having driven Kei-trucks in his late teens, Yuki remained relaxed at seeing his (Un)Serious dominance disrupted “I drove kei-trucks a couple of times when I was 18. My grandfather had one for gardening. The truck was the perfect size, perfectly fitting and it was fun to drive, very controllable and sharp. This series is always fun, but we are racing drivers, so we are always competitive. So, at the same time we are always serious. It’s an unserious vehicle, but serious racing.”
Liam, taking part in first (Un)Serious Series challenge offered insight into what went wrong in Scuderia AlphaTauri’s quest to make it three round wins on the hop. “The highlight was the race at the end, stacking some boxes, and on the way back Yuki made an aggressive turn that I wasn’t ready for and I fell onto him, and knocked it into neutral. So, the last 50m or so, was just in neutral, on the limiter across the line.”
Oracle Red Bull Racing has a longstanding tradition of embracing unique local challenges in every country they visit during the F1 season. These unconventional showdowns not only allow the drivers to let loose and have some fun before the intensity of the race weekend but also celebrate the distinct cultures and traditions of each location.
Similarly, last week in Singapore, the team engaged in a memorable challenge at the iconic Jewel Changi Airport, where Verstappen and Perez raced cleaning carts against the backdrop of the world’s best airport.
The next stop for the four F1 racers is the legendary Suzuka Circuit, home of this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix. One of F1’s most iconic circuits, Suzuka was the scene of Max’s second title win last year.