Dutchman Max Verstappen survived a dramatic first lap before winning the Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday to move closer to his third consecutive Formula 1 championship title.
The Red Bull driver, who missed the podium the previous weekend in Singapore, started from pole position and held on to score his 13th victory of the season.
With Verstappen’s victory, Red Bull secured the 2023 constructors’ title, its sixth overall and its second in a row. The team achieved the feat with six races remaining on the calendar.
“What an incredible season we are having,” Verstappen said. “You can all be very proud here, on the circuit, and at the factory. You have built a car that is a real rocket. Well done ! “, he exclaimed.
McLaren’s Lando Norris finished second, 19.4 seconds behind Verstappen, while his teammate, Australian rookie Oscar Piastri, was third for his first F1 podium.
Verstappen, who collected the bonus point awarded for the fastest lap, also increased his lead over Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez to 177 points. He could clinch his third consecutive title at the Qatar Grand Prix, which takes place from October 6-9.
It was a disastrous day for Perez, who received a penalty for hitting Haas driver Kevin Magnussen and retired from the race after serving his penalty.
The Mexican driver scored victories in Saudi Arabia in March and Azerbaijan in April, but has struggled since then.
Starting from 10th place, Fernando Alonso took his Aston Martin to eighth position.
“It was a good race today: an excellent start allowed us to move up to sixth place and the car responded well despite the lack of performance yesterday [samedi] », Analyzed Alonso.
“With the second set of hard tires we were quite competitive, which allowed us to push and keep the Alpines behind us at the end. »
Quebecer Lance Stroll, who started from 17th place, saw his race end on the 21st lap due to mechanical problems.
“My race was interrupted by a rear wing failure today. It’s disappointing because I got off to a good start, gaining five places on the first lap, and I think a point or two would have been possible. This is sometimes the nature of racing. We will investigate what happened and return to Qatar in two weeks. »
Verstappen saw his record 10-win streak come to an end at Marina Bay in Singapore and arrived in Japan determined to get back on the top step of the podium.
Before Sunday’s race, he had dominated every session at the fast Suzuka circuit, where he won the championship last year in a rain-shortened race.
The conditions on Sunday were ideal and Verstappen took full advantage of them.
The start of the race was exciting, with Verstappen, Piastri and Norris going blow for blow, but the Red Bull driver maintained his lead through the first two corners.
Verstappen commented on the exciting moments at the start of the race.
“Luckily nothing happened,” Verstappen said. “It was pretty close, but that’s racing, that’s how it happens at the start. I was lucky there was a little more grip in Turn 2.”
Verstappen was able to quickly regain the lead after his first pit stop and was never seriously threatened.
Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) finished fourth, followed by Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes).
The battle between the McLaren drivers was ultimately won by Norris. The Briton took the lead over Piastri at the start, before slipping behind the rookie driver when he pitted under a virtual safety car. Norris was then able to produce enough pace to overtake his teammate.
“The progress we have made is quite remarkable,” said Norris, who also placed second in Singapore last Sunday.
“We are targeting the Red Bulls. »