Staff writer Yaseen Zaman looks back at Max Verstappen’s win in the Japanese Grand Prix and forward to Red Bull’s chances of dominating again next season.
It was another one of those weekends for Max Verstappen. He made his biggest statement of the season in Suzuka, after a disappointing P5 finish in Singapore last week.
20 seconds – that was the margin of victory that he told team principal Christian Horner he wanted to win this race by. And he wasn’t far off: the closest driver on track was Lando Norris, an astounding 19.387 seconds behind.
Verstappen snatched all 26 available points from the race, leading Red Bull to a sixth constructors title, with Mercedes now mathematically out of the race.
Mystic Max’s prediction of a dominant victory was not the only bit of foreshadowing fans witnessed last week. Tensions boiled between the Mercedes duo of George Russell and Lewis Hamilton again, after they scrapped for position on Sunday.
It was Hamilton winning out over his young teammate for the second consecutive race. “Who do we want to fight? Each other, or the others?” Russell asked his engineer.
The three-part battle saw the pair go side-by-side into the final chicane before Hamilton pushed his teammate off the track some laps later at spoon curve. It concluded with Hamilton passing Russell on lap 49, helped by a team order which was received with a sharp-tongued response.
On a one-stop strategy, Russell refused to concede fifth place to his teammate behind who was on new tyres. “That’s an order, George”, implored his race engineer. “So we’re playing the team game now?” Russell retorted nonchalantly, before obliging.
Towards the front, team orders at McLaren were met more affably by Oscar Piastri. The Australian became the first rookie to lead a race in the last ten years and the first to finish on the podium since 2017. He was asked to give up second place on lap 27, which allowed Norris to pick up 18 points and overtake fellow Brit George Russell in the driver’s championship.
On a weekend of setting records, Norris broke perhaps the most undesirable one – he has now scored the most points without a win in Formula One history. Yet he remained optimistic about his team’s chances of challenging Red Bull next season. “We’re coming for Red Bull”, he said, with a fighting spirit. “We’re not close to Max, but we’re not miles away.”
Horner paid tribute to the engineers who designed Red Bull’s championship-winning RB19, a car that fans have dubbed one of the most dominant ever. “It’s been the most amazing race, for us, the most amazing year. It’s testimony to the guys here and back in Milton Keyes” he said.
Red Bull’s competition has a track record of dominance, with McLaren and Mercedes having won eight constructors titles each, and Ferrari having won the most ever (16). Their development on next year’s RB20 will have to be as ruthless as it has been in the last two years if they are to fend off their hungry rivals.