Max Verstappen of Red Bull Racing dominated the Japanese Grand Prix to win his 13th race of the year and seal the constructors’ championship for his team.
The Dutchman held off Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris in their McLarens through the first two turns before pulling away.
When Piastri backed off to protect Verstappen, Norris took advantage and moved into second place.
Piastri finished third, giving him a podium finish in his rookie year.
After an early frantic and spirited battle with teammate Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes’ George Russell adopted a rare one-stop strategy, forcing the McLaren drivers to pass him after the final pit stops.
After the McLarens overtook him into Turn One, Russell saw his gamble go to waste when Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc passed him for fourth with a beautiful drive around the outside of Turns One and Two.
In the final laps, Russell was passed by Hamilton and Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, dropping him to seventh place.
The rest of the team’s efforts were mere window dressing in comparison to the domineering performance of Verstappen, who was once again in a class of his own. His performance helped Red Bull win their second consecutive constructors’ championship and their sixth overall.
Now, at the next race in Qatar, possibly in Saturday’s sprint race, Verstappen will win the drivers’ title.
If Max Verstappen finishes ahead of Sergio Perez in the Losail sprint, the Dutchman will win his third world title.
Tension-filled conflict in Mercedes
In the early stages of the race, Russell and Hamilton were separated by razor-thin margins.
At the conclusion of the first lap after the race resumed after an early safety car was called for on-track debris caused by a first-lap crash at the back of the pack, Russell passed Hamilton at the chicane.
The seven-time champion, however, was not willing to accept the move and returned the favor by passing Russell at the start of the next lap as they headed back into Turn One, with Hamilton’s car practically elbowing Russell aside by jinking towards him on the straightaway to show his frustration.
After the leading Mercedes made a mistake and ran wide at the challenging Degner Two curve, Russell attempted to pass Hamilton by going around the outside into Spoon Curve.
While running into the run-off area, Hamilton stubbornly refused to yield, pushing Russell far out over the kerb.
Russell’s reply to this was to question the team over the radio whether they were racing against each other or against other teams.
And that’s what prompted Russell to give the one-stop tactic a shot in the hopes that it would prove fruitful.
It just didn’t pan out in the end. When the McLarens went by him, Leclerc was the first to pass, and then tensions began to rise at Mercedes.
Sainz was closing in on Hamilton, so Russell asked whether the two of them might utilize the DRS overtaking aid together to defend against the Spaniard, just as Norris had defended the McLaren in Singapore last weekend.
Can you tell if he’s interested in teamwork? The least he could do after what happened before,” Russell remarked.
To which Hamilton replied that letting him pass was “an instruction,” after which Russell requested if he might borrow DRS to protect himself from Sainz.
After Hamilton had pulled away, he eased off to try and help Russell, but in the final two circuits, Sainz passed him on the pit straight.
After Hamilton finished the race, he grumbled that he and Sainz had “wasted all this time for no reason” while chasing him in their Ferrari.
Alonso’s excellence; Perez’s blunders
Fernando Alonso, who had started on the soft tyres he later claimed his crew “fed me to the lions” by switching to mediums, came from behind to save his race with a strong performance.
After some tension arose between Alonso and Esteban Ocon at Alpine in 2021 and 2022, the Spaniard found himself in an inevitable confrontation with his former teammate from the French squad.
It turned out that Alonso’s request for Aston Martin to “think of something” in the form of an early second pit stop for hard tyres paid off, as he easily eked out his tyres to beat the two Alpines to the finish line.
Pierre Gasly had the lead in the last laps, but he allowed Ocon through on the team’s order, allowing Ocon to cross the finish line in ninth place and giving Gasly the bonus point.
The decision was made because Ocon had previously let Gasly to pass in an attempt to catch Alonso, but Gasly had been unsuccessful. Gasly was understandably enraged afterward, marking the first source of contention between the two drivers, who had previously disagreed but swore they could work together this year despite their longstanding feud.
Teammate Sergio Perez had a bad race in comparison to Verstappen, who had a flawless weekend and won both races and fastest lap.
His afternoon went downhill quickly after he sustained front-wing damage on the opening lap, which made Hamilton run wide at the opening corner.
Upon entering the pits while under the protection of the safety car, he passed Alonso and was subsequently penalized for doing so. The fact that he passed three vehicles on the way out of the pits before stopping to let them past again had no bearing on the situation.
Then, in an attempt to recover from his first crash, he slid into Kevin Magnussen’s Haas while trying to pass the Dane at the hairpin, causing further damage to Magnussen’s front wing.
Although Red Bull’s mechanics gave it their all, the car was too damaged to continue.
He stopped in the pits to retire, but after waiting around for several laps, he had to return to the track to serve a penalty for hitting Magnussen.