Dthat smile. Max Verstappen shows this when everything goes smoothly like on Sunday in Suzuka. The world champion is back in his lane, the orbit. A week after finishing fifth in Singapore, the Dutchman demonstrated his inviolability at the Japanese Grand Prix: 19 seconds ahead of Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri (both McLaren) at the finish for the lead after a small battle at the start.
Otherwise, the 25-year-old Red Bull driver raced towards his 13th victory of the season in the 16th race and thus his third world championship title in his Champions League, untouched by all his pursuers. With a 177 point lead over his once again indisposed teammate Sergio Perez, the third triumph in a row is within reach: at the next race on October 8th in Qatar. “Let’s go,” Verstappen shouted via radio to the command post in the pits, “that was fun.”
Race in the race behind Verstappen
19 seconds behind for the disillusioned hunting community: Ferrari’s victory in Singapore, the engineers knew, the observers suspected, was due to the track and the circumstances. It wasn’t the car, but rather Carlos Sainz in the cockpit. But on the “fast” track at Suzuka, in the “fast” corners, the accumulated deficits came to light again. In every corner during qualifying, Verstappen drove faster than the Ferrari with Charles Leclerc (4th), this time ahead of Sainz (6th), also faster than Mercedes and the season’s newcomer, McLaren.
This is due to the chassis, no question. But without a first-class drive, Verstappen wouldn’t be able to make ends meet so quickly. And so Honda had a second reason to celebrate on Sunday as a partner in Red Bull winning the constructors’ title. This year the group turned 75 years old. The fans in the stands enjoyed the holiday and everyone looking beyond Verstappen enjoyed the race for the best places behind the winning guy.
Lewis Hamilton and George Russell made it clear that they would not give anything away and would even accept full contact. Shortly before the end, the team management had to explain to the younger Brit who was the boss: “That’s an instruction, George, swap places,” Russell heard over the radio. He obeyed. Hamilton, who was faster in this phase, crossed the finish line in fifth place ahead of Sainz.
The internal team duel at McLaren between Norris and Piastri was no less exciting. The Australian lost second place to his teammate at the start, but after a weaker phase he finally made a step forward in the race in confident third place. “I’m very happy, this is my first podium place in Formula 1. The start didn’t go well, but later I found my rhythm. It can continue like this.” The Formula 1 novice is putting a lot of pressure on his experienced compatriot Norris and making the team management happy. Is there another candidate for champion emerging?
The Japanese Grand Prix had something more to offer than the return of the world champion to the role of untouchable chief driver. The race revealed the next weakness of Red Bull, not the car, which is far ahead of the competition front, bottom and back. The weakness is visible where the gap opens up, in the cockpit. Sergio Perez couldn’t keep up in Japan either, he was already lacking pace in qualifying (fifth far behind the fastest Verstappen). On Sunday he completely lost sight of the ideal line. Shortly after the start he collided with Hamilton and had to have his front wing replaced.
During the first safety car phase, he overtook a few racing cars after returning to the track, even though this is forbidden. Perez was able to serve the five-second penalty during the following service stop. But the next one threw him off track. When braking before the hairpin bend, he slipped into Kevin Magnussen’s Haas far back in the field, a foul from the track stewards’ point of view. The damage forced Red Bull to take the second man out of the race for a long time before he was sent out again, 13 laps behind, so that he could “serve” the second penalty. Otherwise Perez would have been forced to stop for a while in Qatar.
His future at Red Bull is at risk, loyalty oaths or not. As soon as the competition, McLaren, Mercedes, Ferrari, gets closer, Red Bull’s first goal, the constructors’ world championship, will be jeopardized. Because all the drivers from these three racing teams drive at a high level without any major fluctuations. For Williams, it’s not about the title fight for the time being. But the question is whether Logan Sargeant is overwhelmed. On Saturday he interrupted the grid race with a major crash. As a reliable scrap producer, the American is a huge burden on his team.
On Sunday he had to leave the pit lane because of the extensive repairs. He impetuously soon took Valtteri Bottas (Alfa Romeo) on his horns, threw the Finn out of the Grand Prix and received a five-second penalty before he had to park the damaged car. With Sargeant, Williams, who has recently been traveling surprisingly quickly, is not making any progress. On the contrary. There is probably still a gap opening up for those who were perhaps secretly hoping to drive in Formula 1 next season: Mick Schumacher is said to be one of the candidates. Otherwise there will be a German in the driver field. Nico Hülkenberg finished 14th in the Haas on Sunday.
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