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Verstappen stays out of trouble and wins Constructors' title for Red Bull

Verstappen stays out of trouble and wins Constructors' title for Red Bull

24 September - 07:24 Last update: 07:39

Max Verstappen has won his 13th race in 2023 at the Japanese Grand Prix, and has also won Red Bull this year's Constructors' Championship at Suzuka. It was also a double-podium finish for McLaren, with Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri completing the podium. This is the Australian driver's first podium ever in Formula 1 in his rookie season.

Max Verstappen was unbeatable in Japan after he had a tough weekend in Singapore, and won the race commandingly. The Dutchman also set the fastest lap of the race, and now has 400 points in the Drivers' Championship as well. He was not crowned yet as champion, but Red Bull were. Behind Verstappen, the McLaren drivers rounded off the Top 3, in the order of Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri.

Charles Leclerc finished in a comfortable fourth position ahead of Lewis Hamilton and the Monegasque driver's teammate, Carlos Sainz. George Russell was the only driver at the front to opt for a one-stop strategy, but the Briton had to settle for P7. Fernando Alonso finished eighth in no man's land, while the two Alpines claimed the last two remaining points-paying positions with Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon.

There were five non-finishers in Japan, the two Williams, Lance Stroll, Sergio Perez and Valtteri Bottas have all retired from the race.

The Start and the Safety Car Restart

Ahead of the start, there was no tyre advantage between the Top 8, as all of them decided to start on a set of medium tyres. The first drivers to choose to start on the softs were Yuki Tsunoda and Fernando Alonso.

Both McLarens got off to a great start compared to Verstappen at the front, but because of the layout and the Dutchman’s car placing, he could defend first Piastri on the inside, then Norris on the outside. 

There was also a lot of debris left on the track in Turn 1, which triggered the Safety Car on Lap 1. Hamilton made contact with Sergio Perez as the Mexican had a slow start and was boxed in by Carlos Sainz, while Valtteri Bottas was also pushed into Alex Albon. Guanyu Zhou also got some damage flying onto his car at the back. Both Perez and Bottas had to make a pit stop to change their front wings.

Verstappen did well on the restart and pulled away easily from Norris quickly. Moreover, Bottas made contact with Logan Sargeant and was pushed into the gravel trap in the hairpin. Sargeant later got a 5-second penalty for his action, while Bottas had to retire his car. Perez also received the same punishment for Safety Car infringement.

Then entering Lap 6, the two Mercedes had a tough but fair fight, with Russell trying to overtake Hamilton, then the seven-time world champion had a better exit out of the final corner, and into Turn 1 he got his position back.

The Pit Stops

At the front, after a great start on the softs, Fernando Alonso was the first driver to commit to a pit stop on Lap 11. Then on Lap 12, Sergio Perez did a similar manoeuvre to Sargeant’s into the hairpin, and crashed into Kevin Magnussen. Perez retired on Lap 14, while on Lap 13, Piastri took advantage of the VSC session and decided to pit as well.

Red Bull decided to react to Piastri’s early stop on Lap 16, and Verstappen’s gap was big enough to stay ahead of the Australian driver, while Hamilton was also pulled into the pit lane in order for Mercedes to avoid their two drivers fighting with each other on track. Norris and Leclerc pit a lap later, with the Briton losing a place to his teammate, then Sainz changed his tyres on Lap 18. Out of the frontrunners, George Russell extended his first stint the longest, staying out for 25 laps on the mediums.

Verstppane and the two Ferraris opted for the mediums, while the two McLarens and the two Mercedes all chose a set of hard tyres. On Lap 27 McLaren also made the strategic decision to tell Piastri to let Norris through.

At the front, the second set of pit stops started on Lap 34, with Charles Leclerc trying to undercut Piastri and Hamilton trying to undercut Carlos Sainz. The latter was successful, but everyone else remained in the same order after completing their stops, while Russell tried to stay out on a one-stop strategy. Strangely so, Sergio Perez was sent back out on track to serve his 5-second penalty he received for causing an accident, so as to avoid a possible grid penalty for the race in Qatar. As a result, the Red Bull driver retired his car twice.