Red Bull and Max Verstappen returned to the forefront again in Japan. Max Verstappen had an easy Grand Prix to win the race, enough to secure Red Bulls victory in the Constructors Championship. Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri completed the podium with an impressive performance for McLaren.
At 27°C and under clear skies the Japanese Grand Prix got underway in perfect conditions. Also for Logan Sargeant even though he made the start from the pitlane after repairs had to be made overnight following his crash in qualifying on Saturday.
When the lights went out both McLarens made the better getaway and Verstappen immediately chose to cut off Piastri. This allowed Norris to get ahead and take the lead in Turn 1 but it was Verstappen who took it back in Turn 2. Piastri followed up in third place.
All the trouble was behind them really. As Leclerc maintained fourth, Sainz, Perez and Hamilton emerged aside of him. That proved a little bit too much leading to send Hamilton partly into the grass and having to back out of it, Perez breaking his front wing and pitting on the first lap. This enabled Alonso on his soft tyres to get into the mix, wisely choosing the inside of Turn 1 and Turn 2 to join the pack in 6th place, behind Sainz but ahead of Hamilton, Russell, Lawson and Tsunoda.
Lance Stroll was 11th and Hulkenberg 12th with both men gaining 6 places. Less fortunate were the Allfa Romeo drivers as both ended up with front wing damage and needing an early pitstop. They could do so behind the safety car as that was brought out due to debris left out on the starting straight.
At the restart this meant Perez was only 17th, Albon 18th after bumping with Zhou at the start, Sargeant 19th and Bottas dead last. The latter encountered further misfortune when Sargeant missed his braking point at the hairpin and bumped him out in the first lap after the safety car disappeared from the track at the end of lap 3. Bottas rejoined the track but then pitted again to change to hard tyres, only to retire another lap later with further mechanical issues.
On lap 10 the first regular stops of the soft tyre starters happened while on track battling continued. Perez was involved again as after going wide at spoon he was very daring at the hairpin to pass Magnussen but he ended up locking his wheels and bumping into the Haas. Debris required a short Virtual Safety Car period. Perez went on to drive slowly on the racing line and forced Norris to go off track in total confusion. Perez was told before to retire his car and received another 5s penalty later for this incident.
In front, Verstappen pitted on lap 17, followed by Norris and Leclerc the next lap. This briefly saw Norris take the lead and then Russell but when the first pitted the second was cleared ahead of spoon curve by Verstappen enjoying his fresh tyres.
Alonso meanwhile sat in a strong position following his earlier switch from soft to hard but the got stuck behind Ocon who was trying to make a single stopper work while getting passed by Leclerc, Sainz and Hamilton, all on much fresher tyres. Alonso was wondering whether they had pitted too soon and later got frustrated by Ocon's straight line speed making it extremely difficult to find a way past the Alpine.
While Ocon extended his first stint on hard tyres, Russell in front did the same on the medium compound tyres. The Mercedes driver lost more than a second a lap to Verstappen but seemed fast enough to keep the McLarens behind until he eventually pitted on lap 24 to switch to hard tyres. He rejoined in 9th, behind Alonso.
The latter was easily passed by Russell after which the Spaniard was pitted for an early second stop, taking on a fresh set of hard tyres. The Spaniard returned to the track in 12th place and quickly passed Zhou at the hairpin to set a personal best lap, 3 seconds faster than Tsunoda, the next car ahead. Alonso ended up 9s ahead of Ocon after the latter pitted 3 laps later.
On lap 27 Norris was allowed past Piastri after trying to make it past through a regular passing move. Norris appeared considerably faster and indeed ran away from his team mate by nearly a second a lap while the Ferraris and Mercedes were all closing in to Piastri.
The high tyre degradation made for a busy afternoon for the strategy teams. Lap 35 saw a stop for Leclerc, immediately reacted upon by Hamilton and Gasly. The three men had solid stops and all switched to brand new hard tyres. Piastri was pitted the next lap to put him on the same fresh hard tyres for his third and final stint. Norris pitted another lap later and Verstappen yet another lap later. Sainz was the last to pit at the front but when he eventually did he found himself 7s behind Hamilton rather than in front.
Russell again stayed out and after having the McLarens pass him fairly straight forward, Leclerc also made it through. 5 laps from the end a group formed with Russell leading Hamilton and Sainz. Russell did let Hamilton pass 4 laps from the end to go on fighting Sainz for 6th position. A tough battle it proved because it lasted less than a lap as Sainz got 6th in Turn 1.
In the end Verstappen's win and McLaren's double podium proved enough for Red Bull Racing to already seal the Constructors Championship title here in Japan. Oscar Piastri was voted driver of the day.
|1||1||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing Honda Rbpt||53||1:30:58.421||26|
|2||4||Lando Norris||Mclaren Mercedes||53||+19.387s||18|
|3||81||Oscar Piastri||Mclaren Mercedes||53||+36.494s||15|
|8||14||Fernando Alonso||Aston Martin Aramco Mercedes||53||+74.725s||4|
|9||31||Esteban Ocon||Alpine Renault||53||+79.678s||2|
|10||10||Pierre Gasly||Alpine Renault||53||+83.155s||1|
|11||40||Liam Lawson||Alphatauri Honda Rbpt||52||+1 lap||0|
|12||22||Yuki Tsunoda||Alphatauri Honda Rbpt||52||+1 lap||0|
|13||24||Zhou Guanyu||Alfa Romeo Ferrari||52||+1 lap||0|
|14||27||Nico Hulkenberg||Haas Ferrari||52||+1 lap||0|
|15||20||Kevin Magnussen||Haas Ferrari||52||+1 lap||0|
|NC||23||Alexander Albon||Williams Mercedes||26||DNF||0|
|NC||2||Logan Sargeant||Williams Mercedes||22||DNF||0|
|NC||18||Lance Stroll||Aston Martin Aramco Mercedes||20||DNF||0|
|NC||11||Sergio Perez||Red Bull Racing Honda Rbpt||15||DNF||0|
|NC||77||Valtteri Bottas||Alfa Romeo Ferrari||7||DNF||0|
Note - Verstappen scored an additional point for setting the fastest lap of the race.