JAPANESE GP – Max Verstappen takes a dominant win nineteen seconds ahead of the McLarens as Oscar Piastri scores debut podium

Testing & Race Reports

Max Verstappen has continued his domination of the weekend and his bounce back from Singapore by winning the Japanese Grand Prix. The Red Bull driver held off both McLarens at the start before building a twenty second lead over Lando Norris and put  himself in the position to win the championship in the sprint in Doha in thirteen day if he finishes third.

Despite the best efforts of Norris and teammate Oscar Piastri, Verstappen was able to cover both of at the start before pulling away and building his lead. Norris managed to pass Piastri at the start before Verstappen fended him off at Turn Two, from then on it was a Verstappen masterclass as he led the whole race.

The Englishman did get a second attempt following a collision between Valtteri Bottas and Alex Albon brought out the safety car, but once again Verstappen fended off Norris at the restart. Verstappen’s twenty-six points mean that Red Bull can no longer be caught by Mercedes and Ferrari and are the first team to wrap up the Constructors’ Championship with six races remaining.

Verstappen single-handedly delivered Red Bull the constructors championship, following a nightmare race for teammate Sergio Perez. The Mexican had to make two front-wing changes following a collision with Kevin Magnussen and Lewis Hamilton, before eventually retiring.

Perez had tried to pass Magnussen diving down the inside at Hairpin making contact resulting in a five-second penalty. Verstappen will be champion quite possibly on Saturday in Lusail if he outscores teammate Sergio Perez by six points with a podium in the sprint, he would be the first driver to secure a championship in a sprint and in Qatar.

Piastri scored his first podium after finishing ahead of the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc by eight tenths, but his race pace was about the same as teammate Norris, who he undercut at one stage before the Englishman undercut him halfway through the race. While Leclerc fended off Hamilton in two hard battles, eventually finishing six-tenths ahead of the Mercedes.

McLaren may have used team orders to stop Norris and Piastri, resulting in Norris taking second, but the Englishman by pitting under the VSC had fresher tyres. Despite the fears of the threat from Russell, at the second stop Piastri managed to overcut the Mercedes to take third his first Grand Prix podium.

Piastri said, “It feels pretty special definitely. I will remember it for a very, very long time. I can’t thank the team enough for giving me this opportunity. There are not many people who get this opportunity in their whole life and I’ve managed to have it in my first season.

Norris said of McLaren’s double podium: “Another amazing day for us, a P2 and a P3. My start was very good. I almost had Max. Max is Max as well so I didn’t have much chance into Turn Two. But I tried and the pace was extremely strong comparing to everyone.”

Carlos Sainz was sixth as the Spaniard split the Mercedes, he finished nearly a second behind Hamilton and ahead of George Russell by seven tenths. Russell gaining seventh following a brave and bold move on Fernando Alonso, who was “fed to the lions” with his strategy.

The two Mercedes fought hard, Russell leading Hamilton after the opening lap passing him at Casio. Russell had tried to pass round the outside at Spoon but made an error at Degner Two running wide, the seven-time champion refused to yield forcing them both wide.

Russell then tried to get a one-stop strategy to work, but then lost out to Carlos Sainz after the Ferrari used the DRS to defend off the Mercedes like he had done on his way to victory in Singapore. Hamilton had already made a gap, but backed off to help Russell, to no avail as Sainz passed him down the pit straight with two laps to go.

Russell wanted to wait until the final lap, but duly let Hamilton through at Turn One with four laps to go before complaining his team-mate was not helping him defend against Sainz. “If you want to play the team game…he pushed me off the track earlier,” Russell said on the radio.

Mercedes looking as if their drivers are evenly matched now on race pace, and Russell putting in a strong performance after crashing out last weekend in Singapore, but the challenge of closing the gap to Red Bull remains. The battle between McLaren, Mercedes and Ferrari covered by thirteen seconds, between Piastri in third and Hamilton in sixth.

The big challenge going into the closing races is whether any of them can beat Red Bull, get some momentum going into 2024. Often when both championships are wrapped up all the teams become a bit freer and drivers let go, could that lead to surprise results.

Mercedes will be hoping that the hard racing between Hamilton and Russell brings them back into championship winning ways, and if that happens it does without creating drama between the two. That could be costly if they are to take on Red Bull next year who will likely be the team still to beat.

Hamilton then complained as Sainz chased him that they had “wasted all this time for no reason” but he was able to fend off the Ferrari to the flag.

Fernando Alonso recovered to eighth after dropping down the order because of an early pitstop, complaining that the early stop changing from the soft to mediums had “fed (him) to the lions.” Alonso also using an aggressive driving to fend off his former teammate Esteban Ocon, eventually finishing five seconds ahead of the Alpine.

Alpine had tried to used team orders to try and go after Alonso, and Ocon had followed team orders to allow Pierre Gasly to pass Alonso. Gasly failed and was furious that they failed to work together to go after the Aston Martin, maybe a resurfacing of the childhood rivalry between the two.

Liam Lawson continued to show that he still wants a seat for 2025, the Australian finishing eleventh ahead of Alpha Tauri teammate Yuki Tsunoda. Both drivers the lead cars who had been lapped, with Lawson nine tenths ahead of his teammate. Guanyu. Zhou finished ahead of both Haas’s with Nico Hulkenberg comfortably ahead of teammate Kevin Magnussen.

The opening lap drama saw both Albon and his Williams teammate Logan Sargeant retire. In his rebuilt car following a crash in qualifying, after making a few places in the first half of the opening lap he was punted into a spin at the hairpin, resulting in contact with Valtteri Bottas.

Both Williams were at first able to continue but eventually retired on lap twenty-six and twenty-two respectively. While Bottas only managed a handful of laps before himself retiring.


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