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REPORT: Verstappen restores order in Japan after Albert Park blip

Matt Clayton
Monday, 8 April 2024

Max Verstappen made immediate amends for a rare non-score in Australia, the reigning world champion equalling one of the sport’s greats with a third straight win at Suzuka as part of another 1-2 for Red Bull Racing.

Max Verstappen and Red Bull Racing bounced back from a disappointing visit to Australia in emphatic style at the Japanese Grand Prix, the reigning world champion winning from pole at Suzuka for the third year in succession as part of a 1-2 with teammate Sergio Perez.

Verstappen, who retired from the race in Melbourne a fortnight ago with a brake problem for his first DNF in over two years, was back on song at what has become one of the team’s happiest hunting grounds, the home of engine supplier Honda.


Verstappen edged a feisty Perez to pole by just 0.066secs and aced both race starts, the second of them coming after a first-lap incident between Daniel Ricciardo (RB) and Alex Albon (Williams) at the initial start caused a red flag after both cars ended up in the barriers at Turn 2.

In a race of tyre strategy that unfolded elsewhere, Verstappen led all but five laps and had plenty of margin in hand as he beat Perez home by 12.535secs, the Mexican having to fight his way past Lando Norris (McLaren) after his first pit stop.

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Melbourne winner Carlos Sainz made it three podiums from as many races this season with a late surge to third, the Ferrari driver passing teammate Charles Leclerc with seven laps remaining after the Monegasque tried to make a one-stop strategy work from a lowly eighth place on the grid. His efforts didn’t go unnoticed, though; Leclerc was voted as Driver of the Day by the sport’s fans.

As has become customary for the past two seasons, Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso did the most with the least at Suzuka, the Spanish veteran starting fifth and finishing sixth as he held off Mercedes’ George Russell and McLaren’s Oscar Piastri in the closing stages.

Verstappen and Perez’s 1-2 result for Red Bull was the team’s third in four Grands Prix to start 2024, and Verstappen equalled Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher (2000-02) as the only driver to win three consecutive Formula 1® races at Suzuka from pole position.

Aussie watch

8-4-4-8; that’s the numerically-orderly but ultimately frustrating sequence of finishing positions for Oscar Piastri in his sophomore F1® season after the Australian finished eighth at Suzuka, scene of his maiden podium last September.

The McLaren driver said he “lost a bit of rhythm” in qualifying on Saturday when he finished sixth, three places behind teammate Lando Norris, and had his hands full while trying to catch Alonso’s Aston Martin while repelling Russell’s Mercedes in the closing laps, losing seventh to the British driver at the start of the final lap.

While Piastri fell one place to sixth in the drivers’ championship with 32 points after four races, compatriot Daniel Ricciardo’s wait for any points this season will continue to China next time out after his lap one incident with Albon, which ruined a weekend of progress.

Just missing out on his first Q3 berth of the season by 0.055secs on Saturday, Ricciardo was left to rue a decision to start the race on the slower, but more durable, medium-compound tyre on Sunday, a tardy getaway relative to the cars around him leaving him vulnerable and in the firing line as he and Albon disputed the same piece of tarmac on lap one.

Unsung hero

Yuki Tsunoda sent the masses of Japanese fans home happy from Suzuka on Sunday with a spirited drive to 10th place and a second points finish in succession as RB consolidated on its sixth place in the constructors’ standings.

Tsunoda had never scored at home before – no Japanese driver had finished inside the top 10 at Suzuka since Kamui Kobayashi’s memorable podium for Sauber in 2012 – and he had to do it the hard way after dropping to 12th at the restart after, like Ricciardo, a slow initial launch on medium tyres.

With all 10 drivers from the grid’s five fastest teams all finishing on Sunday, Tsunoda did well to hang onto 10th place, Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll finishing an underwhelming 12th to open up a chance for the local hero to snare a point.

Number to know

3: In a 243-race career, Sunday was just the third lap one retirement for Ricciardo; the others came in Bahrain 2018 for Red Bull (electrical failure), and Brazil 2022 for McLaren (crash with Kevin Magnussen).

Japanese Grand Prix: top 10

  1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull Racing) 1hr 54mins 23.566secs
  2. Sergio Perez (Red Bull Racing) +12.535secs
  3. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) +20.866secs
  4. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) +26.522secs
  5. Lando Norris (McLaren) +29.700secs
  6. Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin) +44.272secs
  7. George Russell (Mercedes) +45.951secs
  8. Oscar Piastri (McLaren) +47.525secs
  9. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +48.626secs
  10. Yuki Tsunoda (RB) +1 lap

Standings (top 5)

Drivers' championship

  1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull Racing) 77 points
  2. Sergio Perez (Red Bull Racing) 64
  3. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 59
  4. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) 55
  5. Lando Norris (McLaren) 37

Constructors' championship

  1. Red Bull Racing (141 points)
  2. Ferrari (120)
  3. McLaren (69)
  4. Mercedes (34)
  5. Aston Martin (33)

Next race

Round 5: China, Shanghai International Circuit (Apr 19-21)