Dominant Verstappen clinches Japanese GP in Red Bull one-two

Published April 8, 2024
RED Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen of the Netherlands takes a turn ahead of Mexican team-mate Sergio Perez during the Formula One Japanese Grand Prix at the Suzuka circuit on Sunday.—AFP
RED Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen of the Netherlands takes a turn ahead of Mexican team-mate Sergio Perez during the Formula One Japanese Grand Prix at the Suzuka circuit on Sunday.—AFP

SUZUKA: Max Verstappen said Red Bull must capitalise on their early season dominance after romping to victory in Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix ahead of team-mate Sergio Perez.

The triple world champion claimed his third win in the four races so far this year and on this evidence the Dutchman and Red Bull will take some stopping once again.

Verstappen failed to finish in Australia a fortnight ago because of a brake issue but starting from pole he controlled the race at Suzuka from start to finish.

“I know there will be tracks coming up that might not be so favourable for us,” said Verstappen, who took the chequered flag 12.5sec ahead of the Mexican Perez.

“But then of course when we do get to the tracks where we can be quick, we have to really take advantage of it and score maximum points as a team.”

Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, who triumphed in Melbourne, was third in dry, sunny conditions at Suzuka.

Verstappen has taken an early stranglehold on the world championship on 77 points, with Perez on 64 and Sainz’s Ferrari teammate Charles Leclerc on 59.

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff told reporters after the race that “no one is going to catch Max this year”.

“Basically the rest of the season now is the best of the rest, that’s the fact,” said Wolff.

Verstappen said this week that Suzuka was one of his favourite circuits and he has now won the Japanese Grand Prix three times in a row.

“Of course Melbourne felt like a bit of a hiccup,” he said. “But what we did today was what we want to do, and that’s what we aim to do every single weekend.”

Perez was also coming off a weekend to forget after finishing fifth in Australia.

He did not complete the race last year at Suzuka but was comfortable in holding off Sainz for second.

“I think we have a good momentum,” said Perez.

“Last year here was probably my worst weekend, so I think if we are strong here, I think we can be strong anywhere else.

“It’s been a good weekend.”

Leclerc, who started from eighth on the grid, came home in fourth.

McLaren’s Lando Norris, second in last year’s race, was fifth ahead of Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso.

Mercedes’ George Russell edged out McLaren’s Oscar Piastri for seventh, while Lewis Hamilton was ninth in the other Mercedes.

Japan’s Yuki Tsunoda was 10th for RB, scoring points at his home grand prix for the first time.

Verstappen was starting from pole for the fourth time in as many Grands Prix events, but the race was almost immediately red-flagged after RB’s Daniel Ricciardo and Williams’ Alex Albon collided in a frenetic start.

Albon’s front wing clipped into the rear of Ricciardo’s car as they jockeyed for position and both slammed into the wall before getting out unscathed, but their race was over.

The action resumed from a standing start and Verstappen picked up from where he left off ahead of Perez.

“Whenever I needed to go faster I could, whenever I needed to look after my tyres I could,” said Verstappen. “That’s always a nice feeling to have when you’re driving.”

Verstappen and Perez consolidated their positions, leaving Norris fighting for third against the two Ferraris.

A late lock-up cost the McLaren driver his chance of a podium finish.

Sainz said finishing third was “very satisfying”.

“We kind of knew our race pace was better than our qualifying pace — still probably not enough to go for a win,” said the Spaniard.

“Given how the race pace on the Red Bull is, it’s almost impossible to think about a win.”

The championship resumes in a fortnight’s time with the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai.

It will be the first time the event has been held since 2019, before it was curtailed by the pandemic.

Published in Dawn, April 8th, 2024

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