Analysis: Things we learned from the Japanese Grand Prix

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Following a difficult Japanese Grand Prix, Max Verstappen bounced back in Japan to secure his 48th F1 victory as his team Red Bull clinched a second successive constructors’ championship with a crushing performance. F1Technical’s senior writer Balázs Szabó analyses the Suzuka round.

Dominant year – With seven races still to run, Red Bull clinched their second consecutive constructors' championship, and their sixth overall. It was Verstappen’s 13th win of the season, and his 48th overall F1 victory.

On Saturday, Max Verstappen secured the pole position for the ninth time this season and for the 29th time in his F1 career. With an eye-catching lap during his last stint on Pirelli’s hards, the double world champion also set the fastest lap of the race which was his 28th fastest race lap in his career.

Pit stops – When it came to pit stop performance, Ferrari stood out in Suzuka. The Scuderia serviced Charles Leclerc’s car in 2.23s with the fast tyre change particularly important in the close fight between the Ferrari and Mercedes drivers.

The second fastest tyre change was performed by the Italian team as well with the Ferrari mechanics having changed the tyres on Carlos Sainz’s car in 2.3s.

Tyre changes were generally quicker in Suzuka than in Singapore with over ten pit stops having been completed quicker than 3 seconds.

Fastest lap - Following the Singapore Grand Prix that saw Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz take his and his team’s first win in 2023, Max Verstappen bounced back in Suzuka, dominating the Japanese Grand Prix from start to finish. The Dutch driver also set the fastest lap with a time of 1m34.183s which he set on Lap 39 on Pirelli’s hard tyres. Lando Norris not only finished second in the race, but he was the second fastest when it came to the fastest race laps.

Lewis Hamilton recorded the third fastest lap. The Briton opted for an interesting approach during his final stint as he set a blistering time of 1m35.611s, but his speed faded as he struggled with tyre wear.

Track limits – A total of 15 laps was deleted during the Japanese Grand Prix with drivers failing to adhere to the track limits at Turns 2, 9, 13 and 14. Lewis Hamilton and George Russell came close to a five-second penalty for exceeding the track limits on three occasions apiece. Oscar Piastri had two lap times deleted while Charles Leclerc, Fernando Alonso, Kevin Magnussen, Yuki Tsunoda, Alexander Albon and Lando Norris exceeded the track limits once.

Parc fermé – Williams driver Logan Sargeant received a penalty even before the lights went green on Sunday. The American rookie crashed out of qualifying at the final corner in Q1 with the incident having forced his team to make major repairs which included a chassis change.

Formula One’ s governing body, the FIA noted that the Grove-based outfit had made more changes than normally allowed, effectively resulting in a third car being available to Sargeant which led to a ten-second penalty and the Miami-born driver was forced to start the race from the pit lane.

First podium – Although he finished second in the Spa F1 Sprint back in July, the Japanese Grand Prix saw Oscar Piastri secure his first podium finish at the pinnacle of motorsport. The McLaren driver joined Jack Brabham, Tim Schenken, Alan Jones, Mark Webber and Daniel Ricciardo as Australian F1 podium finishers.

He became the first rookie driver on Saturday to secure a front row start in F1 since Lance Stroll in Azerbaijan in 2017, and he became on Sunday the first rookie to score a podium finish since Stroll’s Baku 2017 result.

Teams – While Red Bull clinched their second consecutive constructors' championship, and their sixth overall in Suzuka, it was a successful round for McLaren as well. The Woking-based outfit secured a double podium finish in Suzuka, scoring a total of 33 points, edging closer to Aston Martin. The gap between the two British outfits is now only 49 points, and with seven races still to go, there is all to play for.

Mercedes, Ferrari and Alpine also finished with both cars in the top ten while Red Bull and Aston Martin also scored with one driver.

Strategy - Pirelli expected that the two-stop strategy would become the preferred strategy at the Japanese Grand Prix based on all the data that was gathered on Friday. It turned out to be the right prediction as apart from those who had to rapidly change their plans because of collisions in the opening moments of the race, the great majority of drivers had opted for a two-stop strategy, making the most efficient use of the sets of tyres available.

The first lap collisions make comparison slightly difficult, but disregarding the first-lap tyre changes, twelve of the 15 drivers who completed the full race distance performed a double-stop strategy. Nico Hulkenberg opted for a three-stop strategy while Esteban Ocon and George Russell completed the Japanese Grand Prix with a one-stop strategy. In case of the French driver, it is worth noting that he visited the pits twice, but his first stop happened on the opening lap which made his strategy an effective one-stop strategy.

Importance - Pole position is not necessary key, but very important for success around the challenging Suzuka circuit. Of the 32 races to date, the race winner has started on pole at Suzuka 17 times with Max Verstappen having added another race to this tally that has been won from the pole position.

Mixed result - Local drivers have played a big part in the history of the Japanese Grand Prix. Aguri Suzuki scored the first ever F1 podium finish for a Japanese driver when he finished third at Suzuka with the Larrousse team in 1990 with Takuma Sato and Kamui Kobayashi also becoming drivers to have secured a podium finish on home soil.

Despite displaying eye-catching pace on Saturday en route to a ninth starting position, Yuki Tsunoda failed to add to his point tally on Sunday, finishing down in P12. It was his second home race in Suzuka, and finished a place higher up than last year.

Development - With the Japanese Grand Prix being the second weekend of a flyaway double-header, not many teams have brought significant upgrades to the challenging Suzuka International Race Course. Red Bull, Alfa Romeo, Haas and Alpine have not brought any updates to the Japanese Grand Prix. The biggest update belonged to Ferrari with an updated floor while McLaren also installed the upgraded parts on Oscar Piastri's car that Lando Norris has already received in Singapore.

Difficult races - It was a very difficult race for two teams that are currently seventh and eighth in the Teams's Standings with only nine points separating them. Williams suffered their first double retirement since Singapore 2022 after Logan Sargeant crashed into Valtteri Bottas' Alfa Romeo and Alexander Albon's car suffered significant damage at the start.

Haas drivers Nico Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen finished the Japanese Grand Prix as the last qualified finishers which happened for the second time in the last three races. The American team scored a point thanks to Kevin Magnussen's tenth place finish in Singapore, but they had a very difficult period before that as they failed to score a single point for nine consecutive races between the Monaco and the Italian Grands Prix.