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Formula 1

Winners and losers from F1’s Japanese Grand Prix

by Josh Suttill
8 min read

Formula 1’s return to Suzuka for the first time in three years delivered half the racing action we expected but far more drama than was anticipated.

It resulted in a Sunday with a wide variety of winners and losers, as our writers explain:


Max Verstappen

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Japanese Grand Prix Race Day Suzuka, Japan

Yes, a shortened race with a confusing awarding of full points is not the ideal way to win a title on paper but in reality, Verstappen’s drive at the Japanese Grand Prix was truly exceptional.

He had the benefit of no spray or cars in front of him, but he thrived in the conditions right from the moment he held his own against Charles Leclerc into the opening turn on the first lap despite a sluggish launch.

Verstappen is a thoroughly deserving champion and a dominating win is befitting of his stellar 2022 season where he and the RB18 have blown away the competition.

This year marks title number two for Verstappen and who would bet against him winning plenty more? – Josh Suttill

Esteban Ocon

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Japanese Grand Prix Race Day Suzuka, Japan

Despite a few hints in practice that this might be a weekend of Fernando Alonso underdog superheroics, it was actually Esteban Ocon who led Alpine’s charge back to fourth in the constructors’ championship at Suzuka.

While Lewis Hamilton deserves credit for the inventiveness of his endless attempts to pass the Alpine for fourth in the closing laps, Ocon deserves even more credit for managing to resist every single one of them.

He’s not necessarily the first person on the F1 grid you’d call up for an elbows-out dogfight, but maybe he should be a little closer to his high-profile team-mate in lists of F1’s best midfield wheel-to-wheel racers. – Matt Beer

Sebastian Vettel

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Japanese Grand Prix Race Day Suzuka, Japan

Vettel’s love for Suzuka made a wholesome pre-weekend story when he indicated he’d “seriously consider” a one-off return to F1 just to race at the Japanese circuit that is his favourite on the calendar.

But it’s not just his favourite track but one the four-time world champion absolutely thrives on.

He got his Aston into Q3 and made a good initial launch before he was nudged into a spin that sent him to the back of the field.

But Vettel bounced back in style from this as he, along with Latifi, made the inspired call to be the first to switch to the intermediates.

A crash and red flag would have left Vettel empty-handed, but instead, it propelled him forward and he ended up in sixth place.

Fernando Alonso pounced on the final lap but in a dead heat, Vettel prevailed and helped Aston to pull clear of Haas/AlphaTauri and close to seven points of a stalling sixth-place Alfa Romeo, which has scored one point in the last nine races.

Sixth place matches Vettel’s best of 2022 and raises the possibility of him closing down Valtteri Bottas for a top-10 driver’s championship finish in his final F1 season. – JS

Nicholas Latifi

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Japanese Grand Prix Race Day Suzuka, Japan

Jokes about Latifi are a favourite pastime of F1 fans on the internet, and he certainly opened himself up to be fair game by making a wrong turn to the access road in FP1. But overall they have really, really started to grate – ‘GOATIFI’ was not that funny a refrain, to begin with, much less now.

He is the weakest driver on the F1 grid in 2022 and that’s why he’s losing his job. That’s all simple enough. He’s also clearly a nice, humble fellow who’s already had to deal with the death threats and associated unpleasantness of Abu Dhabi 2021, never mind the constant ridicule.

So the points on the board are neat. And this was just frankly a pretty good drive – strategy-enabled, absolutely, but well-fought in the aftermath to establish a buffer to Lando Norris that in the end allowed him to bring it home in ninth.

The campaign has been grim. But Latifi now gets at least one race from what is almost certainly his final F1 season that he gets to rewatch and feel really good about. – Valentin Khorounzhiy 



Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Japanese Grand Prix Race Day Suzuka, Japan

Immediately down one car, yielding to a Red Bull 1-2 post-race – and just not fast enough.

It will sting for Leclerc that he erred with second in his sights, and for Carlos Sainz that he was caught out by aquaplaning, but ultimately it’s the obscene gap to Verstappen at the end and the massive wear on Leclerc’s inters that should be more concerning. He took the flag 27 seconds in arrears after a 23-lap stint.

Ferrari has been very happy with the upgraded floor it brought to Suzuka, but there’s not been the dry running to know whether it’s helped with its big race-pace weakness. And in the wet, that weakness  – a different side of it, but still – was on full, deflating display. – VK


Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Japanese Grand Prix Race Day Suzuka, Japan

The rain and Sainz’s opening-lap crash should have given an opportunity for Mercedes to claw back some points on Ferrari for its distant hopes of stealing second in the constructors’ championship.

But instead, both of its drivers spent the grand prix battling in the midfield.

Hamilton was stuck behind Ocon and couldn’t find a way to improve beyond the fifth position he occupied at the end of the first lap.

George Russell’s stunning overtakes provided plenty of entertainment during the Japanese GP, but they were only possible because Russell lost so much ground with the poor timing of his switch to intermediates.

Ultimately the team can afford frustrating weekends like this when it’s not fighting for the title but it’s still disappointing, especially on a weekend where it mathematically can no longer defend the constructors’ title it has won every year since 2014. – JS


Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Japanese Grand Prix Race Day Suzuka, Japan

Daniel Ricciardo got the much better start and potentially looked the quicker driver – at least early on – but he was the one McLaren rolled the dice on by staying out on wets and trying to catch a potential suspension of the race. It could’ve paid off massively, but instead, it just unnecessarily effectively ended his race.

And Norris, though reasonably impressive in fending off Yuki Tsunoda for what was ultimately a point, just clearly had no speed.

Thanks to the full points being awarded, it’s a 16-point swing towards Alpine – which could’ve been more had it not committed Alonso to that same strategy as Ricciardo, but is still plenty with four races to go for McLaren to feel pretty glum about Suzuka. – VK


Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Japanese Grand Prix Race Day Suzuka, Japan

As Latifi proved, this was an opportunity for the smaller teams to score and it was an opportunity that Haas wasted.

Kevin Magnussen never looked close to the points while Mick Schumacher was left out on wet tyres when the race restarted, ‘goal-hanging’ for a safety car and red flag.

That was a semi-likely possibility but Schumacher was already in the top 10 and Haas sacrificed that potential points finish for a shot at something much bigger.

Ultimately Schumacher was defenceless on the wets and his hard work to break into the points was thrown away.

It felt like a strategy call made by a team with a hopeless car – like the car Haas had last year – and while the VF-22 is not a midfield leader, it’s a package that could have delivered a point or two in the rainy conditions.

Easy to say with hindsight but the right risky strategy to take was to follow Vettel and Latifi in pitting almost straight away for the intermediates.

Vettel’s sixth effectively ends any realistic hope of Haas re-catching Aston for seventh in the constructors’ championship. – JS 


Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Japanese Grand Prix Race Day Suzuka, Japan

Given how much of Tsunoda’s F1 career so far has gone, it wouldn’t have been too sceptical to predict that the pressure and excitement of his first home grand prix would prompt a shunt-filled weekend of wasted opportunities.

But Tsunoda himself didn’t put a foot wrong and used the fervent home support productively.

The unfortunate thing was that a composed weekend from Tsunoda didn’t coincide with any degree of pace from AlphaTauri.

It was among the teams trying a late switch to fresh intermediates but there wasn’t much time for Tsunoda to regain ground and he finished only 13th.

That was still five places better off than team-mate Pierre Gasly, whose weekend was bad enough even before he collected an advertising board, only just missed a dangerously meandering recovery truck and then got a post-race penalty. – MB 

F1 itself

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Japanese Grand Prix Race Day Suzuka, Japan

Running a motorsport world championship and dealing with all the unpredictable vagaries of changing weather is not easy. Obviously. No one’s saying it is.

But too many things were wrong with the 2022 Japanese GP.

At a time F1 is thriving and attracting so many fresh fans, it really doesn’t need a huge safety scare, another reminder that the wet tyres aren’t fit for purpose, and a bunch of well-intended rules tripping over each other to create a nonsensical situation with a direct impact on the settling of the championship fight.

There’s a lot that happened today that mustn’t happen again. – MB

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