Max Verstappen back with a bang as Red Bull dominate Japanese GP

World champion secures pole-to-flag victory at Suzuka

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Triple world champion Max Verstappen returned to winning ways with a third pole-to-flag victory at the Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday, leading teammate Sergio Perez across the line for a Red Bull 1-2 at Suzuka.

Verstappen had suffered his first retirement since 2022 in Melbourne last time out which ended a nine-race winning streak. However, the Dutchman had no mechanical issues this week as he made it three wins from four races this season.

Verstappen twice led into the first corner off the line after the race was restarted following a first-lap incident.

From there he controlled the race, taking the chequered flag and the fastest lap to open up a 13-point lead at the top of the drivers' championship in pursuit of a fourth successive title.

Perez did well to overcome a minor threat from Ferrari as Carlos Sainz took the last step on the podium with a strong strategy enough for him leapfrog Lando Norris after McLaren misjudged a call to pit the Briton early for his final stop.

Alex Albon's Williams and the RB of Daniel Ricciardo crashed on the opening lap, triggering a red flag and a 30 minute delay while the debris was cleared and a barrier repaired. Both drivers emerged unscathed.

The action resumed from a standing start and Verstappen picked up from where he left off ahead of Perez.

Leclerc took over the lead after Verstappen pitted on his 17th lap, but the Red Bull driver was back in front four laps later.

Verstappen and Perez both consolidated their positions, leaving Norris fighting for third against the two Ferraris.

A late lock-up cost the McLaren driver his chance of a podium finish.

Fernando Alonso hung on to take sixth for Aston Martin with a late push from George Russell seeing him pass the second McLaren of Oscar Piastri on the closing lap to secure seventh.

Lewis Hamilton had said after qualifying that his Mercedes felt better than it had in the last three years but he struggled for genuine pace and had to settle for ninth.

RB's Yuki Tsunoda finished 10th, securing points in his home grand prix for the first time to the delight of the crowd. He became the first Japanese driver to score a point at Suzuka in over a decade.

Defending champion Verstappen is again this season's points leader and now has won 22 of the last 26 races dating from the start of the 2023 season. Only two other drivers have won in that span — Red Bull teammate Perez and Sainz, the winner in Australia two weeks ago.

“That was a very lovely race,” Verstappen said.

"I think the critical bit was of course the start to stay ahead and then the car just got better and better throughout the race.

"Everything just went really well, pits stops went really well, it couldn't have gone any better. It was a little hiccup of course in the last race but I am happy that we are back on top."

Perez jumped above Leclerc into second place in the drivers championship, 13 points behind his teammate.

"I think we have good momentum. I think if we are strong in places like this with a lot of high speed corners. We can be strong anywhere else," said the Mexican.

Sainz, who will be replaced at Ferrari next season by Mercedes' Hamilton, said after the race he was worried he was on the wrong strategy.

"It was quite tough out there. I thought that maybe one stop was quicker and we were on the two. I had to overtake a lot of cars out there today," said Sainz.

The championship resumes in a fortnight's time with the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai.

It will be the first time the event has been held since 2019, before it was curtailed by the pandemic.

Updated: April 07, 2024, 11:31 AM