Max Verstappen storms to victory in Japan as Red Bull clinch constructors' title

Dutch driver claimed his 13th race win of the season and is on the brink of winning the championship

Max Verstappen lifts the trophy after winning the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka Circuit. Getty
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Formula One leader Max Verstappen ran away with the Japanese Grand Prix from pole position on Sunday as his dominant Red Bull team secured the constructors' title for the second year in a row.

The victory at Suzuka was the Dutch driver's 13th of the season and left him on the brink of a third world championship after Mexican teammate Sergio Perez, his closest rival, failed to finish. Verstappen holds a 177-point lead over Perez and can now seal the title with five rounds to spare at the next race in Qatar.

Verstappen finished ahead of McLaren pair Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri in Japan, and his win helped Red Bull clinch the constructors' title even though Perez retired from the race.

"You have built a rocket ship of a car," he told his team over the radio after crossing the line.

Nearest challengers Mercedes were unable to stay in contention, with Lewis Hamilton finishing fifth and George Russell placing seventh. Ferrari's Charles Leclerc was fourth, while teammate Carlos Sainz was sixth.

"I'm exhausted, fighting with absolutely everything I had to get as high up as possible and ahead of Ferrari," Hamilton told Sky Sports.

"It was a hell of a flight. I've got the most points for the team, I'm trying to hold on for the constructors, I know how important it is for everyone.

"I'm giving absolutely everything, the car is such a handful. It's tough given how much work we've done to progress and we're no closer to the front. But we did get ahead of one of the Ferraris, which was great teamwork. A long way to go."

Verstappen was back to his breathtaking best after a disappointing fifth-place finish at last week's Singapore Grand Prix.

"Unbelievable weekend, to win here is great," said Verstappen. "The car was working very well on every compound but the most important thing was to win the constructors.

"We are having an incredible year and I'm very proud of everyone."

Verstappen held off a double challenge from McLaren to take the lead ahead of Norris at the first turn.

First, the Dutchman veered right to squeeze out Piastri, who was starting from second on the grid, then moved left to stop Norris from darting through the gap.

"The start had too much wheelspin but after that it was quite a straightforward race," said Verstappen.

Norris also finished second in Singapore and he said his McLaren team were "getting there".

"My start was very good and I almost had Max, but Max is Max," said the British driver. "We're not close to Max but we're not miles away either."

Australian rookie Piastri took his first podium finish behind teammate Norris.

"It feels pretty special, definitely. I will remember it for a very long time," said the 22-year-old. "I can't thank the team enough for giving me this opportunity. It wasn't my best race ever but it was enough to get a trophy at the end."

The safety car came out after a chaotic first lap, with Alfa Romeo's Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu taking damage at the start of the race.

Perez got into trouble when he picked up a five-second penalty for a safety car infringement. The Mexican retired from the race a few laps later, telling his team "the car doesn't feel right".

He later came back out, ensuring that he would not have to serve his time penalty at the next race.

Red Bull chief Christian Horner said Perez "got knocked about a bit" in the race.

"It wasn't his day but he'll bounce back," said Horner. "He's been a big part of this success as well."

Red Bull were still able to clinch the constructors' title without Perez picking up any points in Japan.

"It's been the most amazing year for us," said Horner. "Max is on another level at the moment – another incredible performance."

Russell and Hamilton tried to chase Leclerc but Sainz got himself in the mix by going past Russell late on.

Bottas, Aston Martin's Lance Stroll and Williams pair Alex Albon and Logan Sargeant failed to finish the race.

Updated: September 24, 2023, 8:04 AM