Normal service resumed in Suzuka for the 2023 Japanese Grand Prix as Max Verstappen cruised to a dominating win and helped Red Bull secure their sixth Constructors’ title, despite being the only Red Bull driver to finish his race.
McLaren scored a double podium, with Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri finishing second and third, respectively, ahead of Charles Leclerc, Lewis Hamilton, Carlos Sainz, George Russell, Fernando Alonso, Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly, who rounded out the points places in that order.
The two McLaren cars close behind him, pole sitter Max Verstappen had to fend off Oscar Piastri once the lights went out, which almost saw Lando Norris take the lead. Although the Dutchman managed to keep the lead heading into the first corner, Norris made up a place on his teammate inside the first corner.
A bit later, Yuki Tsunoda and Liam Lawson came together, as did Valtteri Bottas and Alex Albon, which brought out the Safety Car in the opening lap itself. Sergio Pérez came in for an early stop under the Safety Car as he had come together with Lewis Hamilton on the opening lap, damaging his front wing.
The Safety Car came in on Lap 5. Verstappen got the perfect start this time as he sped off with the two McLaren cars behind him. Within two laps of the resumption, Verstappen was over two seconds clear of Norris. As he cruised up front, his teammate, Sergio Pérez, picked Guaynu Zhou for P16 on Lap 8.
Bottas became the first retiree of the race after suffering a second collision when Logan Sargeant rammed into his Alfa Romeo; the Williams driver was eventually given a five-second penalty for this. Pérez also received a five-second penalty for Safety Car infringement as he overtook under the Safety Car while coming out post his pit-stop.
Alpine’s Esteban Ocon picked off Kevin Magnussen on the main straight for P11 on Lap 11. On the following lap, as Pérez tried to get past Magnussen, he tagged the Haas driver from the back, damaging his front wing once again. Both drivers dived into the pits after this, with Pérez again changing his front wing.
Piastri came into the pits on Lap 14 from P3. The Virtual Safety Car (VSC) was deployed at the same time, which gave the Australian a free pit-stop. The VSC came in at the end of Lap 14 itself, as Red Bull called in Pérez to retire the car on Lap 15, for it had sustained too much damage.
Verstappen came in for his stop on Lap 17 and re-joined in P5, ahead of Piastri. Hamilton also came in on the same lap and came out behind Fernando Alonso in P10. Piastri got past Norris when the latter came in for his stop, the former’s pit-stop under the VSC helping him make up the places. Verstappen re-took the lead of the race on Lap 19 with Piastri in P3, five seconds behind.
Hamilton went on the outside of Alonso at 130R to pick up P8. He also picked off Ocon heading into Turn 1 on Lap 22. Russell came in for his stop on Lap 25, becoming the final driver on the grid to stop. Norris got up to P2 on Lap 27 after McLaren decided to swap the cars; the Brit was much quicker than his teammate.
Hamilton and Charles Leclerc came in for their second stop on Lap 35. McLaren called in Piastri on the following lap, who re-joined in P5 ahead of Leclerc and Hamilton. Norris boxed as well following his teammate and came out in P4 just ahead of him. The pit-stops kept coming as race leader Verstappen also came in for his second stop on Lap 37. After a swift stop, he was back out on the track in P1, still a good eight seconds clear of the rest of the grid.
Pérez re-joined the race on Lap 40, 25 laps after he had retired; he was sent back out by his team to serve his time penalty rather than carrying it over to the next race. Piastri moved back up into the podium places after breezing on the outside of Russell on the main straight on Lap 42, while Pérez, having served his time penalty, retired for a second time. Three laps after getting passed by Piastri, Russell lost yet another place as Leclerc went on the outside at Turn 2 to take P4.
Mercedes asked Russell to let Hamilton by on Lap 49, with Sainz chasing both of them. Sainz, however, blasted past Russell on the main straight to take P6 as Mercedes’ plan backfired.
Up ahead, Verstappen cruised to a comfortable win, which saw Red Bull secure their sixth Constructors’ title. McLaren scored a double podium, with Norris getting another second position ahead of Piastri, who earned his maiden podium, becoming the first driver since Lance Stroll in 2017 to score a podium in his rookie season.
After taking another dominating win in Suzuka, and with his closest Drivers’ Championship contender not scoring any points, Max Verstappen can secure his third World Driver’s Championship at the Qatar Grand Prix. The Dutchman can wrap up the title on a Saturday at the Sprint Race in Qatar, should he win it.
In two weeks’ time, racing heads to Qatar as all eyes will be on Verstappen, who is chasing that third Drivers’ title.