Formula 1

Formula 1: Verstappen returns to the top step at the Japanese Grand Prix

Feature Image credit: @F1

Max Verstappen returns to winning form in comfortable fashion following his DNF in Australia, leading Sergio Perez in 2nd place.

Everyone managed to get off the grid fairly well, but it wouldn’t take long for proceedings to come to a halt. Alex Albon got a better exit out of turn 2 and looked to begin making an overtake. However, Ricciardo had began to come right, which forced Albon to have to start to take to the grass to avoid contact. However, the cars came too close, hitting one another and hurling themselves into the barrier. This in turn brought out the red flag.

Once racing got underway again some time later, Perez managed to cause a little trouble for Verstappen, though the reigning world champion was able to cover off his teammate well. Further back Yuki Tsunoda was able to overtake Russell to climb to 9th place, hoping to score points at his home race for the first time.

However, it would only take two laps for Russell to regain 9th back from Tsunoda, the pace of the Mercedes proving superior to the RB.

The early red flag had meant there was a mix of tyre strategy at play, as some opted to switch onto new tyres whilst others stayed on the same set, given that they’d have barely been degraded. The first pitstop of the race came at the end of lap 6 when Bottas would swap his softs for hard compound tyres, whilst others would follow him in over the coming laps.

Norris would be one of the drivers who came in for an earlier pit stop, coming in on lap 11, whilst Carlos Sainz would stay out for another four laps. Norris, hoping to gain a decent undercut, would move onto hard tyres, whilst Sainz would go onto used medium tyres.

Russell was clearly the faster of the two Mercedes drivers, and Hamilton had offered to let his teammate through on lap 14, so not to compromise Russell’s race. On that same lap, Zhou Guanyu would retire from the race with a gearbox issue.

Mercedes’ first stint continued to go longer, and that left Hamilton as something of a sitting duck. Norris would get past on his newer tyres on lap 17, followed by Sergio Perez just one lap later, with Sainz then passing the 7 time world champion one lap after that.

Passing Hamilton as soon as possible was imperative for these three drivers, as they fought for the podium places. Whilst Norris was ahead at a track known to be difficult to pass at, Red Bull’s car is a step above everyone else’s, and Perez would be able to regain effective 2nd place with relative ease when he overtook Norris on lap 23.

Ferrari had chosen to split the strategy with their two drivers, whilst Sainz would stop on lap 15, Leclerc was still yet to pit by lap 24, and just 5 seconds behind Verstappen, albeit with a pit stop disadvantage. He would however be holding up Sergio Perez, limiting his ability to escape the group behind or even try and chase down Verstappen.

Lap 25 saw five cars all come into the pitlane at the same time, as each man jockeyed for position with the support of their pit crew’s efficiency. Such chaos in the pits all in one go almost led to a crash though, as Stroll was almost sent out into the path of Yuki Tsunoda.

Lap 27 would be when Leclerc would finally pit, though not before going wide at Degna 2 and allowing Perez to go past. Norris would follow him in, and it would be a straight race to the end for these drivers, though the superior race pace of the Ferrari made it a losing battle for the McLaren driver.

Yuki Tsunoda had managed to find himself outside of the top 10 after his last stop, and had began to climb back through the field as he fought for another points paying position. This culminated with a move round the outside at turn 6 on Nico Hulkenberg. Whilst Hulkenberg’s tyres were very old at this point, the sweeping corners of turns 3 through 7 rarely see any overtaking being done here, making it a rather special overtake for Tsunoda in front of his home crowd.

Carlos Sainz would come in for his final stop on lap 36. Whilst he would lose out on track position to Leclerc and Norris, he would have 10 lap younger tyres than those two, meaning his fight for the podium was far from over.

Lap 42 would see Degna 2 claim another victim as Logan Sargeant would take a visit to the gravel trap. Fortunately for Williams, this would be the extent of the mistake, as they could ill afford another crash, with their cars having gone through the wars over the last couple of weekends.

Carlos Sainz would make his first overtake in his fight to take third on lap 44, breezing past Norris comfortably on the start-finish straight. Now, two seconds behind Leclerc, he would then perform the same move just two laps later, though Leclerc would make things slightly more difficult for the Spaniard, who had to complete the move round the outside of turn 1.

In the dying laps there was a feisty battle brewing for 7th place between Oscar Piastri and George Russell. Russell had attempted a dive down the inside of the Casio Triangle on lap 50, though he went slightly deep and forced Piastri to go wide. Russell would get another attempt on the final lap though, this time on the run down to turn 1, and with the assist of DRS he was finally able to take that position from the Australian.

This was the third Japanese Grand Prix in a row that Max Verstappen has won, a feat that has only been matched by Michael Schumacher. It is also his 57th career victory, and takes him 13 points clear at the top of the driver’s standings.

The next race takes place in two weeks time as F1 returns to Shanghai for the Chinese Grand Prix for the first time in five years, and will also be the first of six Sprint weekends of the season.

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