It was business as usual for Max Verstappen as the reigning World Champion wrapped up the Constructors’ Championship for Red Bull with his 13th win of this season at the Japanese Grand Prix.
The Dutchman was matchless at the Suzuka circuit as he romped to the victory by almost 20 seconds ahead of the McLarens of Lando Norris with Oscar Piastri third. His 26 points meant Red Bull won the Constructors’ Championship as they took an unassailable lead in the standings.
However, it was a tale of two Red Bulls as Sergio Perez, twice pitting for a new front wing after hitting rivals, retired his RB19 from last place on lap 15 due to crash damage. The story of his race included two new front wings, two penalties, and a strange retired-unretired-retired situation.
The Max Verstappen show resumes at Suzuka
On a sweltering hot and windy Sunday at the Suzuka circuit, Max Verstappen lined up on pole position while Logan Sargeant, facing a 10-second penalty for Williams breaching the third car rules, was in the pit lane. The top eight, Verstappen to George Russell, started on the medium tyres while behind them there was a mix of soft and mediums.
Verstappen and Oscar Piastri pointed their noses toward one another. The Dutchman made the better start and completely crossed the track to block Piastri, the Aussie forced to the right, which opened the door for Lando Norris to slide into second.
Behind them, Carlos Sainz, Sergio Perez, and Lewis Hamilton bounced off one another. That caused a chain reaction with Valtteri Bottas squeezed into Alex Albon by Esteban Ocon and Zhou Guanyu’s car damaged by debris. Perez, Bottas, Albon, and Zhou all pitted for new noses with Ocon and Sargeant also pitting. The Safety Car was out.
It returned to the pits at the end of lap 4 with Verstappen quickly up to speed and pulled away from Norris. There were more problems for Bottas, who reported “what the f**k” as he was pitched into a spin by Sargeant. He pitted but was back in a lap later to retire his “undriveable” car. Sargeant received a five-second penalty for the incident.
Meanwhile, Russell and Hamilton had a brief battle for seventh as Russell squeezed Hamilton to go ahead but it was short-lived with Hamilton back in front at the next corner. Despite Hamilton’s car carrying front wing damage, he hunted down Alonso to get within DRS on lap 10. Tsunoda and Lawson were two of the first to make scheduled stops, their softs suffering from high degradation. And then came Alonso on lap 12.
Perez, facing a five-second penalty for a Safety Car infringement but escaping a second investigation for his lap 1 antics, battled Kevin Magnussen for 13th place but hit the Haas. Magnussen spun and Perez pitted for a new front wing, his second of the day, before coming back in to retire the car. As such he escaped the penalty for hitting K-Mag.
Back at the front, Piastri pitted on lap 14 with the Virtual Safety Car out as he pulled in saving him an estimated 10s. Hamilton had an off that saw Russell close up on his gearbox, try to pass, and get pushed very wide by his team-mate. “Who do we want to fight here? Each other?” said Russell.
Verstappen pitted from the lead, returning to the track ahead of Piastri but with the gap down to less than three seconds. Norris, Leclerc, and Hamilton also stopped with Norris coming out behind Piastri. Sainz and Russell, yet to pit, ran 1-2 ahead of Verstappen on lap 18 before Sainz pitted and Verstappen overtook Russell to lead on lap 19.
As Verstappen easily pulled away from Russell, the other Mercedes was having fun with Hamilton passing Alonso through 130R before taking Ocon to run seventh. Alonso wasn’t happy, telling his team: “You’ve thrown me to the lions by stopping that early!”
Russell pitted on lap 25 for hard tyres and came out P9 behind Alonso before passing him through Spoon. McLaren ran 2-3 midway through the race with the Woking team “swapping” positions as Norris showed better pace. There corners later he was already second up on his team-mate.
Williams were completely out of the race on lap 28, retiring Sargeant and then Albon. Strangely Red Bull looked set to unretired Perez, who was back in his car and seemingly ready to return to the action. This was, it was suggested, to negate his five-second penalty being carried over to Qatar.
With Norris on a two-stopper putting 20s behind himself and seventh-placed Russell, who was on a one-stop strategy, the latter was told he needed to up his pace to get involved in the podium fight. Norris pitted on lap 37 and came out behind Russell but only two seconds down. And needed less than a lap to pass his compatriot. Piastri, Leclerc, and Hamilton lined up behind the Mercedes driver after their stops.
And on lap 40 out came Perez to unretire his car, pitted to serve his penalty, and then re-retire the car.
Meanwhile, his team-mate Verstappen set the fastest lap as he cruised toward the victory, Piastri overtook Russell at Spoon to regain third place with Leclerc then closing in but not finding it as easy as Piastri. It took him three laps to pull it off, doing so through Turn 1. Hamilton was the next to attack Russell with Mercedes telling the 25-year-old to move over and making it clear it is “an order”. Russell let him through and then Sainz attacked.
Verstappen romped to the victory by 20 seconds ahead of Norris with Piastri in third place as the rookie secured his maiden grand prix podium finish. Verstappen’s 26 points handed Constructors’ Championship as they only needed to outscore Mercedes by one point on the day.
Leclerc was fourth ahead of Hamilton, Sainz and Russell with Alonso, Gasly, and Ocon completing the top ten ahead of Lawson.
1 Max VERSTAPPEN Red Bull Racing 1:30:58.421 53 laps
2 Lando NORRIS McLaren +19.387
3 Oscar PIASTRI McLaren +36.494
4 Charles LECLERC Ferrari +43.998
5 Lewis HAMILTON Mercedes +49.376
6 Carlos SAINZ Ferrari +50.221
7 George RUSSELL Mercedes +57.659
8 Fernando ALONSO Aston Martin +74.725
9 Esteban OCON Alpine +79.678
10 Pierre GASLY Alpine +83.155
11 Liam LAWSON AlphaTauri +1 lap
12 Yuki TSUNODA AlphaTauri +1 lap
13 Guanyu ZHOU Alfa Romeo +1 lap
14 Nico HULKENBERG Haas F1 Team +1 lap
15 Kevin MAGNUSSEN Haas F1 Team +1 lap
Did not finish
Alex Albon Williams – crash damage
Logan Sargeant Williams – crash damage
Lance Stroll Aston Martin – rear-wing failure
Sergio Perez Red Bull – crash damage
Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo – crash damage