Max Verstappen achieved a new victory in his record, and there are 13 this year, which allows him to arrive in Qatar with the first title opportunity. And he has to be bad at it to not achieve it: with 400 points and 183 ahead of the second place finisher, his teammate Sergio Pérez (who retired not once but twice in this GP), it will be enough for him to finish in the top six in Saturday’s sprint race in Qatar. Barring any incident, he will tie the title before reaching the grid on Sunday.
Behind him were the McLarens, already confirmed as the alternatives on the podium, with Lando Norris 2nd again and an Oscar Piastri 3rd who debuted on the box, becoming the first rookie since 2017 to finish on the box. To see the Spaniards you have to go to sixth place for Carlos Sainz, who lost one position due to Ferrari’s umpteenth bad strategy, and eighth in the case of Fernando Alonso, who despite the poor planning of the stops at Aston Martin He added three points thanks to his 8th place. And it had a good start.
Departure: Alonso gains positions
The first corner of the Suzuka circuit is a classic point where there can be problems at the start. Avoiding possible touches is critical, but also taking advantage of what others may have helps to gain ground in the early stages. This is exactly what Fernando Alonso did.
As in the past, the Asturian took advantage of the start to gain four positions at once, which, together with the touches of several drivers that forced the safety car to be brought out, gave him sixth place for the first third of the race. Going out on soft tires was a success, as it allowed him to attack. The contacts between cars affected Alex Albon (who ended up with his Williams flying), Bottas, Zhou, Hamilton or a ‘Checo’ Pérez who was touched by the seven-time champion and saw how his front wing lost some pieces. The subsequent pit stops eliminated them from the top shortlist. At the head, Verstappen barely resisted the attack of the McLarens, who changed their positions and it was Norris who stood as the spearhead against the championship leader.
With the start, little changes but some incidents: Bottas, who had a chaotic race, and a Williams, and above all a fight between the Mercedes that benefited Alonso, who was able to take a breath in his fight to hunt down Sainz, and above all all Pérez took Magnussen, which caused a virtual safety car just after the Spaniard stopped in the pits, and ultimately his own abandonment with the car seriously damaged.
“Against the lions”
Alonso’s early stop left him, in his own words, “against the lions.” The wear on the hard tires was greater than expected, despite achieving the ‘undercut’ against the Ferraris initially when they stopped in the pits, given that they took to the track with intermediate tires because they were playing two stops.
This meant that not only could he not overtake the Maranello cars, but Alonso found himself progressively passed by Leclerc, Sainz and a Hamilton who, in his fight with Russell (whom he even threw off the track), forced his teammate to change gears. strategy to try to go to a single stop at the end and move up positions like that. At Mercedes, a lot of nerves due to a possible collision between their two drivers. At Aston Martin, for its part, many more for another possible double zero, since Stroll had to retire due to a problem with the rear wing.
Thus, Alonso was made to make a second pit stop to fit some hard tires that would allow him to attack and settle in the points zone. Although this would mean compromising the end of the race in terms of tire resistance. Aston Martin’s strategists were not at all sharp in this race, which Alonso did not hide in his messages on the radio: the Asturian went from fighting for an eventual ‘top 5’ to trying to score points no matter what.
It was not the only team singled out. At McLaren they lost a lot of time when managing the fight between Norris and Piastri, with the Briton complaining bitterly that his teammate was not realizing that his fight was with Russell, who was going to a stop. In fact, the Mercedes driver undercut Piastri and Norris, but they ended up taking him off the podium due to sheer wheel performance. Those who also fell asleep in the strategy were the Ferraris, who saw how Hamilton took the position from Sainz in the pits.
The last laps of the race featured Russell in his defense with Leclerc and in the pursuit of Hamilton against him, which benefited Sainz who reached the final five laps at the wheel of the Mercedes in search of the ‘top 5’. Mercedes was forced to use team orders to defend their positions against the Spaniard’s final attack, but it did not go well: Sainz cooked up the overtakes, first with Russell and then with Hamilton, although he could only beat the first one. In the end, the Madrid native achieved an excellent 6th place.
Ahead, Max Verstappen did not suffer to achieve his 13th victory of the season (equals the record of Vettel and Schumacher), giving Red Bull the necessary points to become world constructors’ champion. It will be enough for the Dutchman to finish 6th in the sprint race on Saturday in Qatar or, in other words, score three points. He has it done very well.
Behind him, accompanying him on the podium, Norris repeated 2nd place and Piastri achieved his first podium in Formula 1, which earned him being named driver of the day. It has been several Grand Prix since this is the only emotion at stake at the top.
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