Red Bull Racing won big at the Japanese Grand Prix as the team sealed their back-to-back and sixth overall Constructors’ Championship title.
Furthermore, defending champion Max Verstappen got back to his winning ways as he sped past the rest of the grid to claim his 48th race win in his Formula 1 career.
Following an underwhelming performance in Singapore GP last week which resulted in a P5 finish, Verstappen regained his pace and saw himself back on the front row for the Japanese race.
Pitting twice, the medium-medium-hard compound strategy went well for Verstappen to weather the high tyre degradation issue plaguing the grid brought by the hot weather. He ultimately was able to stretch the gap to more than 19 seconds from McLaren’s Lando Norris on P2.
The pair of Norris and Oscar Piastri also went for two-pit-stop strategy, sporting a medium-hard-hard combo, equipping them with enough grip to zoom past Mercedes’ George Russell who went for a one-stop gameplan for the 53-lap Suzuka race.
Series of chaos
Costly contacts among drivers from the get go were among the highlights of one of the highly anticipated races in this year’s calendar.
Perez, in what would be his first of many misfortunes this weekend, made contact with Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton in the opening lap after he tried to avoid Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz. Perez would later pit for a new front wing.
Alpine’s Esteban Ocon, Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu and Valterri Bottas, and Williams’ Alexander Albon also figured in an opening-lap chaos that had them going in for repairs.
On Lap 7, Williams’ Logan Sargeant bumped into Bottas, resulting in the latter’s DNF.
Shortly after, on Lap 12, Haas’ Kevin Magnussen spun off after he was hit by Perez. The Red Bull driver came in for another new front wing, but two laps later was told to retire the car.
Albon and Sargeant were also forced to retire due to progressive issues from their incidents. Meanwhile, Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll also DNF due to a rear wing failure.
What quite became a shocker was when Perez was shown on screen to be back and fastened up in his car inside the Red Bull garage.
He hit the tracks again on Lap 40 or 26 laps after he first retired. As it turned out, his five-second penalty for crashing onto Magnussen would be carried over to the Qatar GP if he would not be able to serve it in the current round.
The team took advantage of this loophole, hence Perez’ returning to the race and retiring again on Lap 42.
Overtakes and strategic switches among Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Sainz and Mercedes’ Hamilton and Russell came into play in the final laps of the race as teams determined who could either challenge for positions or defend their teammate as pace and tyre age got factored in.
The checquered flag saw Verstappen raging in hot as the Red Bull team began their celebrations for officially being the best constructor this year.
“To win here was great. I think the car was working really well on every compound, but of course the most important was also to win the constructors so I’m very proud of everyone working at the track but also back in the factory. We’re having an incredible year and I’m very proud of every one,” Verstappen said.
Rightfully so in full on celebration mode was the McLaren team after Norris and Piastri clinched the team’s first double podium of the 2023 season.
This also marked 22-year-old Piastri’s first podium finish in his Formula 1 career.
Achieving the feat in his rookie year, the first time since 2017, the Australian driver affirmed it was one for the books.
“It feels pretty special, definitely. I’ll remember it for a very very long time. I can’t thank the team enough for giving me this opportunity,” Piastri said in post-race after a P3 result.
He added, “There’s not many people in the world that gets this opportunity in their whole life and I’ve managed to have it in my first season. Thank you very much to the team. It wasn’t my best race ever but it was enough to get a trophy at the end so I’m very happy.”
Game over soon?
Still with six more races to go in the calendar, how are the drivers doing in their championship campaign?
With 26 points earned from this round while second-place contender for the championship Perez had none, Verstappen would only need to finish sixth or gain at least three points in the Sprint Race in Qatar on Saturday to secure his third World Drivers’ Championship title.
Verstappen is well far ahead with 400 points. Perez has 223, while Hamilton is in third place with 190.