Sep 24, 2023 at 8:35 AM Update: 7 minutes ago
Max Verstappen won the Japanese Grand Prix with force majeure on Sunday, giving his Red Bull team the constructors’ title. The Dutchman will have his first big chance to win his third world title in two weeks in Qatar.
Verstappen saw his teammate Sergio Pérez drop out after some fumbling. Because the World Cup leader himself took the full 26 points with the point for the fastest lap, Verstappen must prevent Pérez from gaining five points on him in the sprint race in Qatar. Sixth place is enough for that. If that doesn’t work, Verstappen can still hardly miss the title a day later in the main race.
The constructor’s title has already been won. To achieve this, Red Bull only had to edge Mercedes by one point. Verstappen managed that single-handedly. The leader of the team had set out to make engine builder Honda champion for its own audience and so succeeded in that mission. It is the second team title in a row for Red Bull and the sixth in total for the team.
Second place in Japan went to Lando Norris in the McLaren, who beat his teammate Oscar Piastri. The Australian is on the podium for the first time in his career. Charles Leclerc finished fourth in the Ferrari, followed by Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes. The Briton held off Carlos Sainz in the closing stages, while George Russell had to settle for seventh place.
It is only exciting for Verstappen in the first meters
Verstappen had to fend off attacks from both McLaren drivers at the start and retained the lead. From that moment on, the World Championship leader controlled the Grand Prix. There was a brief threat when Piastri was able to stop during a virtual safety car (VSC) and thus save time. But once Verstappen made his first of two stops, he came back onto the track ahead of the Australian.
The Dutchman then only had to pass Russell, who stopped much later with his one-stop strategy. That was the last time the competition had Verstappen in the picture. They only saw him again after the finish.
Russell disrupted the battle at the front with his different strategy, although the Briton was mainly bothered by his teammate Hamilton. The seven-time world champion suffered damage to his car at the start, but had no intention of giving Russell a free pass. The two fighters even ended up off the track for a moment after Hamilton’s strong defense.
There was also a brief dispute within McLaren, because Norris felt held up by Piastri. Due to the VSC stop, the Brit had ended up behind his teammate again, while he had passed Piastri at the start. Norris was clearly faster, but it took a while before McLaren got his young teammate to move aside.
Bumbling by Pérez
Pérez did not advertise himself. In a weekend in which the Mexican could not keep up with Verstappen, things went wrong at the start. Pérez hit Hamilton and damaged his front wing. When entering the pit lane he overtook other cars, while the safety car was already on the track. Pérez received a five-second penalty for that. A catch-up race followed, but not much later things went wrong again.
The Red Bull driver dived too late on the inside of Kevin Magnussen and damaged his front wing again. Pérez was given another time penalty. The damage to his car ultimately proved too extensive, causing Red Bull to drop the Mexican. Later, Pérez took to the track to redeem his time penalty, otherwise he would receive a grid penalty in two weeks in Qatar.
The battle for victory had long been decided by Verstappen at that point, but it was still exciting between Sainz and the Mercedes drivers. Last week’s winner was strategically outwitted by Hamilton and then had to pass both Mercedes to finish fifth. The Ferrari driver succeeded with Russell, but Hamilton held his ground. Nevertheless, that was not enough for Mercedes to keep Red Bull from the constructors’ title.