Max Verstappen on verge of title as Red Bull clinch constructors’ crown in Japan
Max Verstappen moved to within range of a hat-trick of world titles by returning to winning ways at the Japanese Grand Prix as Red Bull clinched the constructors’ championship.
The Dutchman backed up his searing pace in qualifying by easing to victory by a massive 19.387 seconds a week on from seeing his record 10-race winning run ended in Singapore.
Lando Norris finished second ahead of McLaren team-mate Oscar Piastri and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, with Lewis Hamilton fifth and George Russell seventh for Mercedes.
Verstappen has won 13 of 16 rounds this season, extending his lead to 177 points over team-mate Sergio Perez – who endured a miserable afternoon – and he will have the chance to wrap up his third title at the Qatar Grand Prix in two weeks, potentially even in the Saturday sprint by outscoring Perez by three points or more.
While it was serene at the front, the race behind was thrilling as Perez was involved in two early collisions before retiring – only to briefly return – and Mercedes team-mates Hamilton and Russell scrapped with each other.
Red Bull are the first team in Formula One history to win the team championship with six races to spare as Verstappen’s victory moved the Milton Keynes-based team 318 clear of second-placed Mercedes in the standings. It is Red Bull’s sixth constructors’ title since their debut season in F1 in 2005.
Norris predicted after qualifying that if Verstappen led after the 277-metre dash down to turn one, there would be nothing the rest of the field could do.
The McLarens put up a strong fight, sandwiching Verstappen as Norris surged around the outside to go second, but the pole-sitter emerged from the first corner ahead.
Perez was overtaken by Ferrari’s Singapore winner Carlos Sainz and drifted into Hamilton, forcing the seven-time world champion onto the grass.
The safety car was deployed before the end of the first lap due to debris on the track after heavy contact between Valtteri Bottas and Alex Albon.
Perez pitted under the safety car on lap three to replace a damaged front wing and fit the hard tyres but re-joined 17th.
The race resumed on lap five and Verstappen blasted clear of Norris.
Perez’s miserable start continued as he was handed a five-second penalty for overtaking under the safety car as he entered the pits.
It soon went from bad to worse as he suffered more front-wing damage in a collision with Kevin Magnussen, forcing him to pit again on lap 13, and was given another five-second penalty for causing the contact.
The Mexican was put out of his misery on lap 15 as Red Bull retired the car. Remarkably he was briefly sent back onto the track on lap 40, with the team keen for him to serve his outstanding penalty.
Elsewhere it was a story of battling team-mates.
Hamilton was soon engaged in a thrilling scrap with Russell, who slid up the inside at the final corner but Hamilton blasted back ahead down the pit straight.
The battle soon resumed as Hamilton ran wide and had to defend fiercely against Russell, forcing the 25-year-old off the track at the Spoon Curve.
“Who do we want to fight here, each other or the others?” Russell asked his team.
Hamilton’s defence was investigated but cleared by the stewards as he pitted first.
Meanwhile, Piastri had gained an advantage by pitting just as a virtual safety car was called, leapfrogging Norris after his pit stop.
Norris was soon on his team-mate’s gearbox, urging McLaren to act.
“The longer I stay behind the worse you are going to make the race for me,” Norris said, adding “What’s he doing?” before McLaren allowed him through.
Russell rolled the dice by attempting a one-stop strategy on an afternoon where tyre degradation was an issue for all the teams at a baking hot Suzuka.
But he was swallowed up by both McLarens, Charles Leclerc and team-mate Hamilton – with Russell urging his team to get Hamilton to give him DRS to defend from Sainz, as the Spaniard did a week ago to thwart Russell.
But Sainz moved past to take sixth as Ferrari gained the edge on Mercedes in the battle for second in the constructors’ standings.
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