Seven things we learned from the Japanese Grand Prix
Red Bull wins the constructors’ championship… as half of its driver line-up watches from the garage
Red Bull is the 2023 constructors’ champion
Red Bull’s second straight constructors’ title and sixth overall was simply a question of ‘when’ and ‘where’ from the moment it hit the track in pre-season testing, and now we have our answers: ‘yesterday’ and ‘in Japan’.
There was talk that a new technical directive was the root cause of the team’s struggles in Singapore the week before, but Max Verstappen blew that theory out of the water with a dominant performance that saw him claim pole position by a huge margin and the chequered flag by almost 20 seconds. Yowzer.
The Dutchman’s 13th win of the season means Red Bull has now amassed 623 points; more than double the figure hauled in so far by Mercedes in a distant, a-long-time-ago-in-a-galaxy-far-far-away second place. Max alone has 400 points and would be leading the constructors’ unaided if Red Bull decided to save some money and run just the one car. Which is ironic because…Advertisement - Page continues below
Sergio Perez had a day to forget
… that’s basically what it did in Japan. Sergio Perez had yet another of those races that he’ll quickly want to move on from, after contact with Lewis Hamilton, a safety car infringement, an amateurish crash with the Haas and Kevin Magnussen, three different front wings, two penalties and a retirement. All by lap 15.
Actually, make that two retirements. Having pulled off without serving his penalty for running into Magnussen, Red Bull realised he’d be served with some sort of punishment at the next race in Qatar. Cue comedic scenes in which the Mexican was forced to clamber back into the cockpit and wait for permission to rejoin the track purely so he could have five seconds added to his race time. Oh dear.
McLaren really likes fast corners
McLaren arrived in Japan expecting to have a strong weekend - their car was dynamite at the similarly quick British GP in July - and a strong weekend is exactly what they had.
Oscar Piastri impressed in qualifying by outpacing teammate Lando Norris despite never having raced at Suzuka, and at lights out both cars had sight (albeit briefly) of the race lead diving down into the first corner.
In the end it was Norris who proved quicker over the grand prix distance - his P2 finish was his fourth of the season and second in a row - while Piastri did enough to keep Ferrari’s Carles Leclerc at bay and score a first ever F1 podium. No wonder McLaren extended his contract until 2026.Advertisement - Page continues below
Mercedes battled hard… with itself
After fighting for the win a week earlier in Singapore, lining up on the fourth row of the grid was a reality check for Lewis Hamilton and George Russell. Not least because Ferrari are closing the team down in the battle for second in the constructors’.
So it was a little odd - although much appreciated - to see both drivers going wheel-to-wheel with each other: Russell inched past Hamilton into the final chicane early on, only for the seven-time champ to DRS his way back past on the main straight. 10 laps later, both cars ran wide at Spoon Curve in the battle for sixth place.
Then came the team orders drama: with the two-stopping Hamilton closing in on the one-stopping Russell in the closing laps, there was an argument over how best to keep both cars ahead of Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, who was quicker than both at the time. Eventually Hamilton was allowed past to give Russell a DRS boost, but the tactic failed and Sainz very nearly took fifth place as well.
Alonso doesn’t like lions
That’s the only conclusion that can be drawn from Fernando Alonso’s latest addition to his greatest hits of memorable team radio messages, sent to the pit wall as his Aston Martin fell backwards behind the quicker Mercs and Ferraris he’d managed to get the jump on at the start. “You’ve thrown me to the lions by stopping me too early, mate,” the Spaniard told his race engineer. “Unbelievable.”
Alonso took the chequered flag in eighth place, and with teammate Lance Stroll retiring, the team that started the season with the second quickest car faces an uphill battle to hang onto fourth in the standings. It’s now only 64 points ahead of McLaren with six races to go: who’s your money on?
Williams’ special livery was not a fortuitous livery
Williams ran this here Gulf livery at Singapore and Japan as the result of a fan vote, but it didn’t bring the team much in the way of luck. They came away without scoring in Singapore (largely thanks to another misjudged Sergio Perez overtake) and Japan was even worse with a double DNF locked in just half way through the grand prix.
Alex Albon had to call it quits halfway through after damage sustained in a collision with Zhou Guanyu on the opening lap, while Logan Sargeant’s retirement was self-inflicted after he’d punted Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas off the track on lap 5.
It’s the latest in a string of incidents for the US rookie, who’s yet to score a point in F1 and whose place in the team looks increasingly tenuous. Which might be why…
The Liam Lawson hype train is gathering steam
… there are rumours Liam Lawson could join Williams in 2024. There was already speculation that the New Zealand driver - parachuted in to replace the injured Daniel Ricciardo a few weeks ago - might take the Aussie’s place on the grid having impressed since being thrown into the thick of it at the Dutch Grand Prix.
That rumour was quashed when AlphaTauri confirmed that Ricciardo would partner Yuki Tsunoda for 2024 with Lawson acting as reserve, but clearly the 21-year-old deserves more than back-up duties: he beat Tsunoda again in Japan, just one place shy of another points finish after his first in Singapore. Could parent team Red Bull loan him to Williams next season to get him fully trained up?Advertisement - Page continues below