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Formula 1

Ferrari fights back while Red Bull dominates F1's Japanese GP

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
7 min read

Max Verstappen and Red Bull bounced back from their Melbourne misery in Formula 1's Japanese Grand Prix, bagging a comfortable 1-2 despite a solid showing from its main rival Ferrari.

It marked Verstappen's third consecutive Suzuka win and it was never in any real doubt, the Dutchman keeping the lead at both the start and the restart after a crash stoppage and then utterly in control from there.

Ferrari, meanwhile, asserted itself again as this year's second-best outfit, executing two fairly extreme strategies with its two cars - a one-stop for Charles Leclerc and a big offset for Carlos Sainz - to complete the top four.


Only 18 of the 20 participating cars were still in the race by Turn 3 - and proceedings were suspended soon after, triggering a 30-minute stop as barrier repairs were required.

The culprit had been a collision between RB's Daniel Ricciardo and Williams's Alex Albon coming out of the second corner.

Albon was eyeing to put pressure on Ricciardo on the outside entering Suzuka's famous left-right-left-right-left sweep, yet Ricciardo - perhaps preoccupied with the prospect of Lance Stroll close-ish on his inside approaching corner entry, or perhaps just unaware of Albon's positioning - shifted to the right with increased urgency and barged Albon off the track.

The RB's right rear wheel was damaged in the process, too, so while Albon went into the tyre barriers with the front of the car, Ricciardo was spinning and had more of a side-on impact - but both were unhurt.

"Just squeezed me, nowhere to go," was Albon's description of events, and his Williams team now faces an anxious damage assessment process because, having already contested the Australian Grand Prix qualifying and race with one car due to the lack of a spare chassis, it won't have one ready in time for the next race in Shanghai either.

On Ricciardo's side, it ended a weekend during which, having sat out first practice in favour of rookie driver Ayumu Iwasa, he had got encouragingly closer to team-mate Yuki Tsunoda in pace by the end of their qualifying.


While there had been just the one change in the top 10 at the original start - through Tsunoda dropping back - the Mercedes cars switching to hards during the red flag created some subsequent variance after a standing restart.

Lewis Hamilton was picked off by Ferrari's Leclerc, while team-mate George Russell had run wide and let Tsunoda through - albeit re-passing him soon after.

The bigger intrigue would come from pitstop timings rather than straightforward on-track action, and an early pitstop for Valtteri Bottas - who would get himself ahead of Tsunoda as a result despite a 4s tyre swap - spotlighted the sheer power of the undercut.

So while the Red Bulls paced themselves out front after the start, Verstappen's breakaway was made easier by a Perez error into Degner 2, and there was no immediate response to a lap 11 pitstop for McLaren's Lando Norris, running an early third.

And when Perez pitted four laps later, he was well behind the McLaren - now in net second place, albeit on hards compared to Red Bull's mediums. It meant that just around seven laps later Norris more or less waved Perez by.

Verstappen had stayed in control of the race after his own stop, albeit would have to clear Leclerc - running long in his first medium stint - on track to retake the lead.

Leclerc's pace had held up well, however. A Degner 2 error of his own let Perez through on lap 26 and put Norris right behind him, yet when Leclerc pitted at the end of the lap, Norris followed him in - told by McLaren they needed to cover off Russell - meaning whatever tyre offset advantage Norris had had over Ferrari was officially gone.

Not only that, but Norris actually came out for his pitstop behind Russell, albeit quickly overtook the Mercedes around the outside of Turn 1.


But Norris's strategy wouldn't just cost him versus Leclerc in the end.

Sainz, who had run a handful of seconds behind the McLaren for virtually the entire race, extended his second stint considerably compared to those around him, meaning that he rejoined all the way down in seventh when he made his final stop for fresh hards.

This, however, was no problem. Hamilton was dealt with right away, and at that same time, Russell pitted out of the way, leaving Sainz with a straightforward job of catching back the two cars ahead of him.

He did just that, and a mistake from Norris in the hairpin left the Briton vulnerable to an easy overtake with DRS. But that had looked a foregone conclusion anyway, especially as Sainz then quickly reeled in Leclerc - who was told not to "lose time" battling his team-mate and was cleared around the outside of Turn 1.

It meant Sainz has been on the podium in all three F1 races he's contested so far this season, having missed Jeddah due to appendicitis.

Leclerc dropped to over five seconds behind Sainz at the finish in fourth, followed by Norris in what was probably not quite the Japanese GP showing McLaren had hoped for at a track it had been widely tipped to do well.


It was a weird race for Mercedes following that early decision to switch to hards, and ultimately at least one of its cars did make progress relative to where it started.

That first stint on the white-walled tyre was painful, seemingly more so for Hamilton than for Russell. The seven-time champion effectively volunteered to allow Russell through, which he then did when formally requested, and then implored Mercedes to "change this strategy" a few laps later.

But both cars were at least in the mix with their main rivals, and a final stint on mediums paid dividends for Russell.

Having made his final stop later than the two cars ahead, Aston's Fernando Alonso and McLaren's Oscar Piastri, Russell caught them up by the end.

An initial attempt to work his way past Piastri at the chicane didn't work out, Russell leaving Piastri no room and the Australian skipping the corner as a result, keeping position.

But while it looked like that might be it for their battle, a lock-up at the chicane from Piastri on the penultimate lap left the door open for Russell to swoop around the outside of Turn 1 to secure seventh place.

Sixth wasn't really on offer at that point, Alonso having managed well to stay comfortably ahead at the chequered flag.

As for Hamilton, he and Mercedes had tried to extend their penultimate stint ever-so-slightly relative to Russell, but he came out well behind, told by the team there had been a time loss on the in-lap.

He was a second behind Piastri at the chequered flag, continuing his rather unfruitful start to his final season with Mercedes.


For Tsunoda, the sole RB driver in the race for almost its entirety, it was a home grand prix to remember.

The Japanese driver was aided by continued slow stops for Sauber on Valtteri Bottas' side. Sauber has been struggling with a pitstop issue to start 2024, and while the countermeasure it had in place this race prevented any completely race-ruining stops, it was still losing a lot of time.

So Tsunoda's main rival for the 10th and the single point realistically up for grabs was Aston Martin's Lance Stroll - yet while Stroll pitted late on for a dash to the flag on softs, Tsunoda eked out his hard stint to 30 laps.

It proved more than enough in the end, with Stroll not only nowhere near 10th at the finish but also overtaken by Haas driver Nico Hulkenberg.

The German had put himself in position to contend for points at the initial start, moving up to 10th, but sank like a stone off the line during the restart, and could only recover to 11th by the end.


After a qualifying that was somewhere between "marginally encouraging" and "par for the course" for F1's surprise slowest package this year so far, Alpine was absolutely nowhere in the race, both Esteban Ocon and Gasly putting up a fight early on but mostly notable for how easily they were being overtaken by cars on the same strategies.

They would finish 15th and 16th, and this owed everything to the misfortune of others.

Apart from Ricciardo and Albon, Zhou Guanyu retired the second Sauber with a mechanical issue, while Logan Sargeant was ahead of them in the second Williams when he went into the gravel at Degner 2.

It looked like the end of his race and an inevitable safety car intervention, yet Sargeant reversed out of the gravel trap and continued on.

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