World Champion Max Verstappen cruised to a dominant win in the 2023 Japanese GP and scored enough points to give Red Bull the Constructors title.
–by Mark Cipolloni–
With 101,000 sun drenched fans looking on, Verstappen took the lead from the pole at the start after a short tussle with Lando Norris who got a better jump from third place.
Verstappen got ahead by Turn 2 and thereafter only lost the lead for a couple of laps during pit stops to beat the McLarens of Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri by almost 20 seconds at Suzuka.
Behind the top three, Sergio Perez got a poor start from fifth place on the grid and on the approach to Turn 1 he was squeezed by the Ferrari pair of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz. Forced left, Pérez made contact with Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and dropped back to seventh as Sainz slipped through to P5 and Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso roared up the inside from 10th to sixth.
Further back again, there was another incident, with Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu moving into the path of Williams’ Alex Albon. The Williams driver ran over the rear left of the Alfa Romeo and while both managed to keep going, substantial amounts of debris were left on track and the Safety Car was deployed.
Behind the Safety Car Pérez pitted at the end of lap 2 for a new nose cone. But the Mexican driver’s race unraveled further there, as he rejoined incorrectly behind the Safety Car and was handed a five-second time penalty. It would only get worse for the Red Bull driver.
When the Safety Car left the track Verstappen controlled the re-start well to hold his lead ahead of Norris and Piastri, with Leclerc in fourth ahead of Sainz and Alonso.
Pérez was soon on the march and over the following half dozen laps he carved his way from 18th place to 12th, behind the Haas of Kevin Magnussen. However, on lap 13, the Red Bull driver was sent plummeting down the order again when an attempt to pass the Dane at the hairpin went wrong. “I’ve got front wing damage again,” he lamented after locking up and sliding into the side of the Haas.
Pérez returned to the pit lane again, serving his penalty and taking on a new nose cone. But almost as soon as he was back on track he reported that his car “did not feel right” and he returned to the pit lane and the garage. He was also handed a second penalty for causing the collision with Magnussen.
It was Verstappen’s 48th career F1 win and Red Bull’s 6th Constructor’s title. That’s the second straight constructors’ title for the Bulls, and a 13th win of the year for the Dutchman.
Verstappen took the 1 point for fastest lap as well. Verstappen’s fastest lap was 1.064s quicker than any other driver.
Verstappen now leads his teammate Sergio Perez who did not finish, by 400 to 223 points, which means he can lock up the Driver’s Title in the Qatar Sprint race in 2 weeks time.
Today was Verstappen’s 35th consecutive race finish – the second longest streak in F1 history, behind Lewis Hamilton’s 48.
“Unbelievable weekend and to win here was great, the car was working well on every compound,” said a happy Verstappen.
“But the most important was to win the constructors’ so well done to everyone back at the factory. We are having an incredible year!”
“Another amazing day for us, P2 and P3 – couldn’t ask for anymore,” said a happy Norris.
“My start was very good, I almost got Max, but Max was Max, he was away in Turn 2. We weren’t close to Max, but we weren’t miles away either. I’m very proud of the team and the steps we are making.”
Charles Leclerc held on to finish 4th in the #16 Ferrari ahead of Lewis Hamilton who rounded out the top-5 just ahead of the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz Jr.
George Russell was the only one-stopper, but it didn’t quite work for him in seventh, ahead of Alonso in P8. Ocon and Gasly rounded out the points.
“It feels pretty special, definitely. I’ll remember it for a long time,” said Piastri on his first F1 podium.
“I can’t thank the team enough for this opportunity, it wasn’t my best race ever, but it was enough to get a trophy. The move on George, I knew I had to get past, or I’d get stuck – and that one was a bit close. Excited to try and get some more!”
“It’s been the most amazing race for us, the most amazing year and it’s testament to these guys and the the guys and girls back in Milton Keynes,” said winning Red Bull team owner Christian Horner.
“And of course, Max is just on another level at the moment. [Checo] went through a few front wings out there, it wasn’t his day but he’ll bounce back at the next race, he’s a big part of this success as well. It’s very fitting to win this championship here, in front of Honda.”
“Great to see Oscar get his first podium – pretty awesome,” said 2nd place McLaren team boss Zak Brown. It was a pretty straightforward race, nerve wracking until the checkered flag come out, but straightforward. We’re coming [in the constructors’ race] and hopefully, we’ll be there at the end.”
Alpine did well to pick up some points, with AlphaTauri unlucky to miss out.
Another driver who might have mixed feelings tonight is Liam Lawson. He beat his teammate on merit, came within touching distance of the points, and still doesn’t have a drive for next season. He also doesn’t know yet if he is racing in Qatar, with question marks still over Daniel Ricciardo’s recovery from his broken hand.
There were plenty of collisions and moments out there, with Sergio Perez involved in two of them. It was a race to forget for the Mexican, and while he’ll have to take part in the celebrations later, it might all feel pretty bittersweet.
2023 Japanese GP Results – 53 Laps
|1||Max Verstappen||NED||Oracle Red Bull Racing||+0.000s|
|2||Lando Norris||GBR||McLaren F1 Team||+19.387s|
|3||Oscar Piastri||AUS||McLaren F1 Team||+36.494s|
|4||Charles Leclerc||MON||Scuderia Ferrari||+43.998s|
|5||Lewis Hamilton||GBR||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team||+49.376s|
|6||Carlos Sainz||ESP||Scuderia Ferrari||+50.221s|
|7||George Russell||GBR||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team||+57.659s|
|8||Fernando Alonso||ESP||Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant||+74.725s|
|9||Pierre Gasly||FRA||BWT Alpine F1 Team||+79.678s|
|10||Esteban Ocon||FRA||BWT Alpine F1 Team||+83.155s|
|11||Liam Lawson||NZL||Scuderia AlphaTauri||+1 Lap|
|12||Yuki Tsunoda||JPN||Scuderia AlphaTauri||+1 Lap|
|13||Zhou Guanyu||CHN||Alfa Romeo F1 Team Stake||+1 Lap|
|14||Nico Hulkenberg||GER||MoneyGram Haas F1 Team||+1 Lap|
|15||Kevin Magnussen||DEN||MoneyGram Haas F1 Team||+1 Lap|
|DNF||Alex Albon||THA||Williams Racing||DNF|
|DNF||Logan Sargeant||USA||Williams Racing||DNF|
|DNF||Lance Stroll||CAN||Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant||DNF|
|DNF||Sergio Perez||MEX||Oracle Red Bull Racing||DNF|
|DNF||Valtteri Bottas||FIN||Alfa Romeo F1 Team Stake||DNF|