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Verstappen leads home Perez for Red Bull one-two at Japanese GP after early drama

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SUZUKA, JAPAN - APRIL 07: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (1) Oracle Red Bull Racing

Max Verstappen bounced back from his retirement in Australia with a commanding drive to victory during Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix, taking the chequered flag ahead of Red Bull team mate Sergio Perez and Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz.

Verstappen led the way from start to finish as warmer than expected weather conditions, a variety of tyre strategies and a first-lap accident involving RB’s Daniel Ricciardo and the Williams of Alex Albon all played their part in proceedings.

It meant a third successive pole-to-victory conversion for the Dutchman at Suzuka, while also marking a third win from four races in 2024, boosting his lead in the drivers’ championship after it was dented by a brake-related retirement last time out at Albert Park.

Fresh from an improved qualifying display that saw him finish just over half a tenth away from pole, Perez backed up Verstappen to give Red Bull another one-two finish after their perfect results in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia to kick off the season.

Japan 2024

Race results

PositionTeam NameTimePoints
1VER1:54:23.56626
2PER+12.535s18
3SAI+20.866s15
4LEC+26.522s12
5NOR+29.7s10
View Full Results

Australian Grand Prix winner Sainz was the last of the front-runners to make their final pit stop and benefitted from fresher rubber to clear McLaren’s Lando Norris and team mate Charles Leclerc in the closing laps – the latter having completed one stop fewer on an alternate strategy.

Leclerc kept Norris at bay in fourth and fifth places respectively, while Fernando Alonso continued to lead Aston Martin’s charge en route to sixth, finishing just in front of the squabbling Mercedes and McLaren machines of George Russell and Oscar Piastri.

Piastri, on ageing hard tyres, and Russell, on newer medium tyres, had come close to colliding towards the end of the race when they went wheel-to-wheel at the final chicane, with the stewards looking into the incident after the Australian argued he was forced off the track.

Lewis Hamilton mirrored Russell’s strategy en route to ninth, having questioned Mercedes’ approach earlier in the race, with home hero Yuki Tsunoda taking the final point on offer for himself and RB as he battled his way to 10th via a series of fine overtakes.

SUZUKA, JAPAN - APRIL 07: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (1) Oracle Red Bull Racing

Verstappen held the lead at both race starts and never looked back on his way to victory

Haas’s Nico Hulkenberg was one of Tsunoda’s victims in 11th, while Lance Stroll was another to make some eye-catching passes – particularly through the Esses – but ultimately went without reward in P12, commenting over the radio that Aston Martin’s lack of straight-line speed made it feel like they were in a “different category”.

Kevin Magnussen took 13th in the other Haas, in front of Kick Sauber’s Valtteri Bottas and the Alpines of Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly, who survived contact when the action resumed following Ricciardo and Albon’s coming together at the original race start.

Logan Sargeant had a trip through the gravel in the closing moments of the race but the Williams man reversed out and continued on his way to P17 and last, avoiding the same fate as the aforementioned Ricciardo and Albon, and the other Kick Sauber of Zhou Guanyu, who retired early on amid apparent technical trouble.

After four drama-filled rounds, the F1 paddock will head to China with Verstappen leading the drivers’ standings on 77 points, followed by team mate Perez on 64 and Leclerc on 59, while Red Bull (141 points) hold the advantage over Ferrari (120) in the constructors’ battle.

SUZUKA, JAPAN - APRIL 07: Race winner Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing

Verstappen returned to winning ways in Suzuka

AS IT HAPPENED

After another impressive qualifying display from Verstappen and Red Bull, it was the Dutchman lining up on pole for the fourth time from four events this season, with team mate Perez for close company, followed by the McLaren of Norris, Ferrari of Sainz and Aston Martin of Alonso.

As the cars took their places on the grid amid bright, warm conditions and the tyre blankets came off, it was revealed that the majority of the field would be starting on mediums, with Alonso, Hulkenberg, Bottas, Albon, Ocon, Stroll, Gasly and Sargeant going for softs.

At the start of an anticipated two-stop encounter, pole-sitter Verstappen made a clean getaway to maintain his lead into Turn 1, with the remainder of the top five staying unchanged, only for a red flag to be thrown a few seconds later following a clash involving Ricciardo and Albon at Turn 3.

With both drivers unharmed, replays showed Ricciardo on the inside and Albon on the outside coming together in the bottleneck, sending both cars across the gravel and into the barriers at speed. “He just squeezed me – nowhere to go,” the Williams man lamented over the radio, with the incident to be looked at by the stewards post-race.

When the barrier repairs were complete, drivers returned to the grid in their order at the time of Ricciardo and Albon’s incident – some taking the opportunity to fit fresh tyres – for another standing start, where Verstappen again held onto his pole advantage.

2024 Japanese Grand Prix: Ricciardo and Albon crash on Lap 1 to bring out the red flags at Suzuka

Perez slotted into second, from Norris, Sainz, Alonso and Piastri, with the medium-shod Leclerc jumping up to seventh position after Mercedes pair Hamilton and Russell swapped their tyre strategies under the red flag period and moved to the hard rubber.

Tsunoda was another to swap tyres, taking on softs and moving from 12th to 10th, before heading into a scrap with Russell, while Ocon sat on the fringes of the points but reported contact with team mate Gasly – both now running hards – and asked Alpine to check the data.

Up front, Verstappen immediately got into a rhythm with a series of fastest lap times, soon putting him out of the DRS window back to Perez, who survived a moment coming out of Degner 2, with Norris, Sainz and Alonso doing their best to hang on to the leaders.

Bottas and Hulkenberg (the latter losing ground at the restart) were the first drivers to pit under green flag conditions, both bolting on hard tyres, with Kick Sauber this time managing to change all four tyres in a reasonable time after their recent struggles to send the Finn back out just in front of his Haas rival.

Home favourite Tsunoda also didn’t leave it long before ditching his soft tyres, and the power of the undercut was highlighted when the RB returned to the track between Bottas and Hulkenberg – a variety of strategies across Pirelli’s three compounds starting to play out.

SUZUKA, JAPAN - APRIL 07: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Visa Cash App RB climbs out of his car

Ricciardo and Albon were in the race for a matter of seconds before they crashed out

Verstappen had built up a solid three-second advantage by the time the race hit double lap figures, via some banter with Race Engineer Gianpiero Lambiase over his car’s balance, while Sainz reported that he could see Norris “struggling” ahead as he looked to put pressure on.

Shortly after Sainz’s radio message, Norris was the first of the front-runners to pit on Lap 12 and make the move from mediums to hards, releasing Sainz, Alonso (continuing to stretch out his soft-tyre stint) and team mate Piastri, who came in one tour later – when Zhou also pitted to retire his Kick Sauber.

At this point, sixth-placed Hamilton radioed the Mercedes pit wall to ask, “shall I let George by?”, with Russell enjoying a better run on the hard tyres, prompting his engineer to make that call and the two Silver Arrows to swap positions at the final chicane.

Aston Martin pair Alonso and Stroll swapped their ageing softs for mediums over the next couple of laps, dropping them to eighth and 14th respectively, before second-placed Perez and third-placed Sainz made the call to stop for another set of medium tyres.

Verstappen decided that the end of Lap 16 was the time to make his first stop, also taking on more medium tyres, handing Leclerc a temporary lead, while recent stopper Norris pulled off a stunning move around the outside of Hamilton at Turns 1 and 2.

2024 Japanese Grand Prix: Norris powers past Hamilton on the outside at Turn 1

Despite running the harder compound, Hamilton reported over the radio that his front-right tyre was now “dead”, with the seven-time world champion losing another spot to Sainz – the driver he will replace at Ferrari next season – on the entry to Spoon Curve.

Further overtakes followed as Verstappen retook the lead from the yet-to-stop Leclerc with a move that echoed Norris’ on Hamilton at Turn 1, while Sainz picked off the other Mercedes of Russell to work his way back up to fifth, behind Perez and Norris.

Medium-shod Perez and hard-shod Norris then traded places as the Red Bull driver made good use of his softer tyres, while Hamilton urged Mercedes to “change this strategy” and the team duly responded by boxing both him and team mate Russell in quick succession.

After those stops, Verstappen led the still yet-to-pit Leclerc, with Perez holding third from Norris, Sainz, Alonso, Piastri, Hamilton and Russell, while Hulkenberg occupied the final points-paying positions from Tsunoda, who thanked RB for getting him out from another stop ahead of a gaggle of rival cars.

Perez soon caught Leclerc and pounced when his rival ran wide at Degner 2, with the Monegasque then pitting at the end of the lap for fresh hard tyres, along with Norris – the Ferrari coming back out in front of Russell, and Norris just behind.

SUZUKA, JAPAN - APRIL 07: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (1) Oracle Red Bull Racing

Verstappen moved into a comfortable lead as the various tyre strategies played out

Norris, who had questioned McLaren’s call to pit him with so many laps remaining, soon worked his way past Russell to climb back up to seventh, with several cars ahead yet to make their final stops and the fight for the podium still very much on.

As the laps ticked by, there was further drama for Russell when he reported “turbulence” on the straights and his helmet “flying off his head”, before news came in that Stroll was being investigated for a pit lane infringement, having rejoined from a stop side-by-side with a Haas.

TV cameras then cut to a thrilling scrap between Hulkenberg (who had stretched out his stint on ageing tyres), Tsunoda and Stroll over the final point, with the Japanese racer sending the capacity home crowd wild as he pulled off a move and moved into 10th position.

A flurry of pit stops followed, with Piastri, Perez, Alonso, Verstappen and then Sainz all stopping for fresh hards, meaning white-marked rubber all the way for the front-running cars to the finish, albeit some very new, and some much older.

Verstappen led Perez by 7.5 seconds at this point, with Leclerc three seconds further back, followed by Norris and Sainz, who cleared Hamilton for fifth as the other Mercedes of Russell made another stop to switch to mediums.

SUZUKA, JAPAN - APRIL 07: Charles Leclerc of Monaco driving the (16) Ferrari SF-24 leads Lewis

Leclerc went longer than the cars around him but could not find his way onto the podium

It briefly looked as though Hamilton could push on to the finish, reporting that his tyres were holding up well, only to follow team mate Russell onto mediums a couple of laps later, leaving the Mercedes cars in eighth and ninth from final top 10 runner Tsunoda.

With just over 10 laps remaining, Sargeant lost buckets of time and brought out the yellow flags when he locked up at Degner 2 and ran into the gravel trap, which he eventually reversed out of before heading back to the pits for a new set of tyres.

Sainz lit up the timesheets on his fresher rubber to close in on Norris and take advantage of a lock-up from the latter to move up to fourth, with his engineer then radioing “one more to go for the podium” as he set his sights on team mate Leclerc.

Leclerc was urged to “not lose time” in a fight with Sainz, given that he would be “racing Norris” for fourth, rather than a spot on the podium, and the Ferraris duly swapped positions on the run down the start/finish straight without much drama on Lap 46.

There was another dose of excitement before the finish as Russell launched an attack on Piastri into the final chicane, where the McLaren driver took to the run-off and retained the position, radioing that he felt he was forced off the track.

2024 Japanese Grand Prix: Tsunoda grabs P10 by slipping past Hulkenberg on the outside at Turn 6

Russell got the job done a couple of laps later with a DRS-assisted move on the run to Turn 1, but the stewards will be looking into the moment at the chicane after the race, along with the Ricciardo/Albon clash and Stroll’s pit lane incident.

Verstappen saw out the remainder of the race with ease to take the victory over Perez, as Sainz completed the podium from Leclerc and Norris and Alonso crossed the line just ahead of the battling Russell and Piastri in positions six to eight.

Hamilton had to settle for ninth, ahead of Tsunoda, who took in the applause from his home fans at the finish, with Hulkenberg and Stroll – the Aston Martin driver making a fine move on Magnussen through the Esses after a late stop for soft tyres – missing out.

Magnussen wound up 13th, from Bottas, the two Alpines of Ocon and Gasly and final finisher Sargeant, with Zhou, Ricciardo and Albon all having to watch the action from the sidelines following their early retirements.

SUZUKA, JAPAN - APRIL 07: Race winner Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing

Verstappen made it three wins from three at Suzuka, and three wins from four in 2024

Key quote

“It was very nice,” said Verstappen. “I think the critical bit was of course the start, to stay ahead, and after that the car got better and better for me throughout the race. I don’t know if it had to do with the clouds coming in, but yeah, [it was] very nice. Everything just went really well, the pit stops went well, the strategy I think worked out well, so it couldn’t have been any better.”

What’s next

The next stop on the 2024 F1 calendar will be the Chinese Grand Prix, with the paddock heading back to the Shanghai International Circuit for a Sprint weekend from April 19-21. Head to the RACE HUB to find out how you can follow the action.

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