World championship-elect Max Verstappen retuned to winning ways by securing first position at the Japanese Grand Prix and securing Red Bull Racing’s their sixth constructors’ title.
Verstappen fended off an early assault from the McLarens at the start of the race and lived up to Lando’s pre-race prediction that the Woking-based squad would have little answer to Max if he led beyond Turn 2.
The Red Bull driver crossed the finishing line 19.3 seconds clear of Norris, having been considerably out of reach across the 53-lap race at Suzuka beyond the opening laps.
The only moments of close action that the championship leader faced were in his defence of the lead into the first corner, as he pulled across to the inside of the corner to fend off any threat from front-row starter Oscar Piastri.
Norris then placed his car on the outside, but could not get enough to get into the second corner to take the lead, but jumping Piastri nonetheless in the process.
The McLaren driver then attempted to challenge Verstappen on a subsequent restart after a lap 1 safety car was produced to clear debris resulting from a clash between Valtteri Bottas and Alex Albon – in which the Alfa Romeo driver went into the Williams driver’s side by Esteban Ocon.
Verstappen made the perfect restart on the exit of the Casio Triangle, and proceeded to begin his usual efforts to build a break over the rest.
This put him beyond reach despite the early power of an undercut strategy, as Verstappen had enough in hand to preserve a net lead during each pitstop stages.
His efforts ensured that Red Bull outscored Mercedes to tie up the constructors’ championship, the team’s sixth during its 19 seasons in Formula 1. What an incredible achievement.
Norris led a McLaren 2-3 home as Piastri managed to collect his maiden podium – although he undercut Norris following the opening round of stops having pitted under a brief virtual safety car – Oscar’s race pace was less impressive than his teammate and Norris made his way through at the start of lap 27.
Charles Leclerc briefly hinted at being a threat to Piastri’s podium when the 2021 Formula 2 champion was stuck behind a one-stopping George Russell following the second round of stops, but struggled to pass the Mercedes himself once Piastri made his way through.
The Ferrari driver eventually finished 7.5 seconds down on Piastri but had fourth apparently locked in as the cars behind made little progress into his advantage despite differing attempts at strategy.
Lewis Hamilton made an undercut over Carlos Sainz work to secure fifth, having just about fended off the Ferrari driver despite Mercedes’ bad attempt to imitate his Singapore Grand Prix-winning strategy by telling Hamilton to give the following Russell DRS.
Russell was moved aside by Sainz as his sole set of hard tyres had begun to ail and fell to 7.4 seconds behind the Ferrari to secure seventh.
Following a strong getaway at the start of the race that resulted in sixth position, Fernando Alonso could only claim eighth after an early switch from soft tyres to hards – and suggested his team had “thrown me to the lions” as he battled to retain position.
He managed to stay ahead of the Alpines, as Ocon recovered from the first-lap drama to collect ninth ahead of Pierre Gasly.
Liam Lawson beat AlphaTauri teammate Yuki Tsunoda as the home favourite was announced for the 2024 season, as Zhou Guanyu beat the Haas duo of Nico Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen.
Magnussen had survived an assault from Sergio Perez at the Turn 11 hairpin as the Red Bull driver made an bad divebomb on K-Mag. Checo then earned a five-second penalty and retired, but returned to the circuit well into the race to serve that penalty before retiring again.
Williams retired Albon and Logan Sargeant as a result of the damage, as the latter used his newly rebuilt car to push off Bottas into a spin at the hairpin, causing the Alfa Romeo driver to retire his own car two laps after the contact.
So congratulations to Red Bull Racing in winning the constructors’ title. What an incredible achievement in this sport and with Max Verstappen on the verge of taking this season’s title, this success has been incredible.
Japanese Grand Prix, race results:
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:30:58.421
2 Lando Norris McLaren +19.387s
3 Oscar Piastri McLaren +36.494s
4 Charles Leclerc Ferrari +43.998s
5 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +49.376s
6 Carlos Sainz Ferrari +50.221s
7 George Russell Mercedes +57.659s
8 Fernando Alonso Aston Martin +74.725s
9 Esteban Ocon Alpine +79.678s
10 Pierre Gasly Alpine +83.155s
11 Liam Lawson AlphaTauri +1 lap
12 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri +1 lap
13 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo +1 lap
14 Nico Hulkenberg Haas +1 lap
15 Kevin Magnussen Haas +1 lap
Alexander Albon Williams DNF
Logan Sargeant Williams DNF
Lance Stroll Aston Martin DNF
Sergio Perez Red Bull DNF
Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo DNF