Max Verstappen dismissed concerns that his Red Bull car had been nobbled by new technical directives by taking a dominant victory in the Japanese Grand Prix, sealing a sixth straight F1 constructors’ title for his team.
The Dutchman, together with his teammate Sergio Perez, had been well off the pace at the previous round in Singapore. This had prompted suspicion that a clarification of technical rules by the sports governing body, the FIA, had removed the Red Bull advantage that had seen the team win every previous race this season.
But those suggestions quickly evaporated as the Verstappen was fastest in every practice session at Suzuka, took pole position by more than half a second, and never looked in any danger in the race. His 13th win of the season meant Red Bull Racing has now won six consecutive team titles.
McLaren continued its impressive return to form, taking second in Japan with Lando Norris and third with Oscar Piastri, the rookie Australian scoring his first F1 podium. Charles Leclerc was fourth for Ferrari while Lewis Hamilton held off Carlos Sainz to score fifth for Mercedes. Hamilton’s teammate George Russell, who employed a risky one-stop tyre strategy and for a while looked like he might challenge McLaren for a podium, faded to seventh.
Norris and Piastri, who started where they finished, reacted well at the start of the race, with Norris getting alongside Verstappen in the first corner, but the Dutchman held his nerve and soon opened up a big gap. He is all but certain to win his third straight drivers’ title and could seal it at the next race in Qatar.
Behind Verstappen, a messy first half of the race saw five retirements, including his Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez. The Mexican had a torrid day, losing places at the start and damaging his front wing in a tangle with Hamilton. He then was given a five-second penalty for overtaking under a virtual safety car, and then crashed into Kevin Magnussen while attempting a clumsy overtake. The damage from that incident caused Perez’s retirement, although he later emerged back on track to pit and serve his second penalty in order to avoid a grid penalty at the next race. He then promptly retired again. Perez’s failure to score points means he’s just 33 points ahead of Hamilton in the race for second place in the championship, with 223 points compared to 400 for Verstappen.
Fernando Alonso, who slipped from third to fourth in the title chase in Singapore, finished eighth in Japan for Aston Martin. The Spaniard was frustrated with his team for pitting him too early and struggled to make his car work properly on the hard tyre. “You’ve thrown me to the lions,” he wailed on the radio, shortly before Lewis Hamilton overtook him at high speed into the legendary 130R corner.
The Alpines of Estaban Ocon and Pierre Gasly rounded out the points, Ocon finishing ahead after team orders led to them swapping places; Ocon had earlier let Gasly past to chase down Alonso, but was he unable to catch the Aston Martin.
Liam Lawson, in his fourth race deputising for the injured Daniel Ricciardo, was 11th for Alphatauri, one place ahead of teammate Yuki Tsunoda in his home race. Alphatauri has confirmed that Tsunoda and Ricciardo will race for them next year, but yet another impressive performance from Lawson means the New Zealander will be keen to find a permanent space on the grid for 2024.
Zhou Guanyu was 13th for Alfa Romeo, while Haas endured another disappointing weekend, with Nico Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen taking the final places. Magnussen had been spun round and lost time in his collision with Perez.
The second Alfa Romeo of Valtteri Bottas tangled with the Williams of Alex Albon at the start, leading to Albon’s retirement, while the second Williams of Logan Sargeant also failed to finish after also tangling with Bottas, who also had to retire. Sergeant is the only driver on the grid without a 2024 contract, and will have done his chances no good this weekend; he also had a big crash in qualifying.
Lance Stroll, who missed the Singapore race after his own big crash in qualifying, returned in Japan but had to retire after his rear wing failed.
The next race weekend is at the Losail circuit in Qatar, with a sprint race on Saturday, 7 October and a full GP on the Sunday.
2023 Japanese Grand Prix Race results
1: Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
2: Lando Norris (McLaren)
3: Oscar Piastri (McLaren)
4: Charles Leclerc (Ferrari)
5: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
6: Carlos Sainz (Ferrari)
7: George Russell (Mercedes)
8: Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin)
9: Esteban Ocon (Alpine)
10: Pierre Gasly (Alpine)
11: Liam Lawson (Alphatauri)
12: Yuki Tsunoda (Alphatauri)
13: Zhou Guanyu (Alfa Romeo)
14: Nico Hulkenberg (Haas)
15: Kevin Magnussen (Haas)
DNF: Alex Albon (Williams)
DNF: Logan Sargeant (Williams)
DNF: Lance Stroll (Aston Martin)
DNF: Sergio Perez (Red Bull)
DNF: Valtteri Bottas (Alfa Romeo)