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Japanese Grand Prix: F1 Race Results

Did McLaren mount a challenge to Red Bull in Suzuka?

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Max Verstappen took victory at the Japanese Grand Prix, Red Bull sealing the constructors’ championship. 

Max Verstappen en-route to winning the Japanese Grand Prix (Image Credit: Red Bull Content Pool/Getty Images)
Max Verstappen en route to winning the Japanese Grand Prix (Image Credit: Red Bull Content Pool/Getty Images)
Pre-race

After Red Bull’s unbeaten run ended in Singapore, the paddock feared swift revenge from the reigning World Champions. The signs were ominous from first practice, with Max Verstappen finishing the first session over half a second clear at the top of the timesheets.

A continuation followed FP2 and FP3, with Verstappen cruising to the fastest times. Producing one of the laps of the season in qualifying, the reigning World Champion looked relaxed ahead of the race. Teammate Sergio Perez had work to do from P5 if he intended to impact the race.

A clear sky with warm temperatures greeted drivers on race day. Tyre wear was the buzzword of the race. Teams mulled over the merits of a two or three-stop race due to the punishment tyres get on this classic circuit.

Red Bull had a chance to wrap up the constructors title at Suzuka. Needing only one point more than Mercedes, the team focused on outscoring Ferrari by 24 points. With Ferrari lining up P4 and P6 on the grid and the fastest Mercedes back in P7, Red Bull targeted sealing its all but inevitable title on the day Honda celebrated its 75th anniversary.

Instead, the challenge to stop Red Bull fell to McLaren, with Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris aiming to add to the team’s illustrious history at the circuit from P2 and P3 on the grid.

Logan Sargeant’s tough weekend went from bad to worse before the Grand Prix had begun. The American was forced to start from the pit lane following his qualifying crash yesterday, also incurring a ten-second penalty as the scale of the rebuild broke parc ferme rules.

Home hero Yuki Tsunoda’s sterling performance sent the Japanese fans into raptures. Out-qualifying the Aston Martin of Fernando Alonso to P9 on the grid, the grandstands erupted before the race began to propel Tsunoda forward. After a subdued national anthem, the drivers prepared for the race start, the tension mounting.

Lights out and Safety Car

Verstappen squeezed the McLarens at lights out; the Red Bull tried to counter a fast-starting Piastri. Lando Norris had a very fast start, passing his teammate and almost taking the lead from the Red Bull.

Carnage erupted further back on the long run down to turn one. Sergio Perez made contact with Lewis Hamilton; both were able to continue. Perez required a new front nose, rejoining back in P18, a tough start after receiving a motivational speech at the start of the race. The stewards also noted the Mexican for a Safety Car infringement.

Alex Albon was sent into the air after a collision with the Alfa Romeo of Valtteri Bottas but emerged unscathed. Sadly, both Alfa Romeo’s had damage, resulting in a double pit stop.

Further back, the AlphaTauri’s duelled throughout the first lap as Lawson made a lightning start. The amount of debris required an immediate Safety Car.

Restart and more collisions

Norris could not stay with Verstappen at the restart, pulling out almost a second on the McLaren. The gap would only get bigger in the subsequent laps.

Bottas’s tough afternoon worsened, spinning out at the hairpin, the victim of a lockup from the under-pressure Logan Sargeant. Both The Williams and Alfa Romeo paid a visit to the pits due to the collision. Bottas quoted the car as undrivable, retiring from the race soon after. Sargeant was later awarded a five-second penalty to add to his ten-second penalty.

The two Mercedes cars locked into a tight duel at the end of the first lap. Russell passed his teammate after the final corner, only for Hamilton to repass on the straight.

Perez began his long recovery drive afternoon by passing Zhou for a lowly P16 on lap 8. However, he received a five-second penalty for a Safety Car infringement, adding to his troubles.

Soft tyre runners began to struggle for pace only a few laps after the restart, with Yuki Tsunoda diving into the pits for fresh rubber on lap ten. Lawson followed in a lap later, undercutting his teammate.

Perez closed on Perez and dived down the inside of Kevin Magnussen’s Haas. Performing a late move, the Haas spun around, and the Perez needed a second new front wing. The Red Bull rejoined at the back of the field.

Bad degradation was expected, with Fernando Alonso pitting on lap 12 for hard tyres to prevent Lewis Hamilton from executing an undercut.

McLaren pulls trigger on tyre strategies

Piastri dived into the pits on lap 14, as the Virtual Safety Car came out for less than a lap. Although back in P9, he now had a free pit stop under his belt, while his rivals would need to pit under green flag conditions. Piastri then began to climb up the order, closing on Gasly.

Perez retired after just 15 laps in a Grand Prix to forget for the Mexican. However, we would see more of Perez in the race. Further back, Hamilton ran wide, giving his teammate an opportunity. Fighting at the hairpin, the cars ran wide at Spoon Curve. Mercedes opted to pit Hamilton, ending the duel and giving the seven-time World Champion clear space.

Verstappen pitted to close off Oscar Piastri, rejoining ahead of the McLaren with ease on lap 17 on new mediums. Norris came in a lap later, Piastri jumping him in the pits thanks to his Virtual Safety Car stop. Norris was on the hard tyres, while Leclerc and Sainz were on the mediums.

Intriguing strategies were now in play. The two McLarens had an extra set of hard tyres, while Red Bull was one set short. Norris’s fastest lap showed the car had pace. On their mediums, Ferrari began moving up the field, With Sainz passing Alonso and Ocon in just a few corners.

Aston Martin did not enjoy its hard tyres as Fernando Alonso began to go backwards as Lewis Hamilton closed up. In a display of complete trust, Hamilton passed Alonso around the ultra-fast One Thirty R. Aston Martin’s woes were compounded a lap later when Lance Stroll had incurred damage and retired.

With Russell exploring a one-stop race, Piastri began to close, Mercedes pitting on lap 25 after a long stint on the mediums, emerging as Ocon and Alonso engaged in an intense duel for P7.

The two McLarens began duelling on lap 26, swapping the cars a lap later. Piastri dropped two seconds to his teammate, struggling on his hard tyres. This gave hope to Leclerc, who began to close.

Alex Albon retired, bringing a poor race to an end for Williams.

 

Battle behind Red Bull intensifies

Mercedes were preparing for an ultra-intense team battle, with the race now at over half race distance. Separated by four seconds, the two drivers would be in close proximity at the race end.

McLaren and Ferrari needed to keep a close eye on the pace of the charging Silver Arrows. Russell’s pace began to drop off as he nursed his tyres. Leclerc pulled the trigger first to avoid an undercut, pitting on lap 35, with Hamilton following him in. This forced McLaren’s hand, with Piastri pitting a lap later to cover off Ferrari. Carlos Sainz did not come in, the Scuderia realising he had been undercut.

Norris came in, Russell leapfrogging his fellow Briton. Norris pushed hard on his out lap, the McLaren passing the Mercedes with ease on the main straight. Hamilton found pace and began closing down Leclerc’s Ferrari in an effort to close the gap to his teammate. Verstappen also took the opportunity to pit, comfortably retaining his lead.

Perez returned to the track on lap 39. His sole intention was to serve his five-second penalty for colliding with Kevin Magnussen earlier in the race. After one lap, he served it and once again retired.

Russell continued to struggle as the second McLaren of Piastri began to loom in his mirrors. Defending hard, the traction of the Mercedes proved a challenging obstacle to pass. Using DRS and a good exit out of the final corner, the Australian passed the Briton around the outside into turn one. Leclerc then began to close on the Mercedes but also struggled to pass. He squeezed ahead into turn two on lap 45.

Mercedes under pressure

The two Mercedes now found themselves in the duel the race had been building to, with only a few laps to go. Carlos Sainz also sensed an opportunity to pass both the Silver Arrows with only five laps left.

The order came from Mercedes to swap positions, and Russell found himself defending from Carlos Sainz. Hamilton then dropped back to give Russell DRS. But with fresh tyres and more grip, Sainz breezed past the first Mercedes.

Max Verstappen took the chequered flag, with Red Bull securing its sixth constructor’s title. Norris and Piastri secured a double podium for McLaren, with Leclerc taking P4 for Ferrari. Hamilton finished P5 just ahead of the charging Carlos Sainz. Russell came home P7 after his defensive drive, with Alonso, Ocon and Gasly completing the top ten.

Final classification

 

Feature Image Credit: Red Bull Content Pool/Getty Images 

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