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Formula 1

Winners and losers from F1's Japanese Grand Prix

7 min read

A Max Verstappen and Red Bull rebound after his brake-forced retirement in Melbourne always felt likely, but a mishmash of tyre strategy behind at least kept things interesting at Suzuka.

So who were the big winners and losers from the Japanese Grand Prix?


Yuki Tsunoda

A really strong weekend from the home hero, rightly applauded heartily by local fans at the chequered flag.

Tsunoda didn't have the perfect grand prix - that slow getaway in the original start could've been race-ruining - but RB really had no business scoring points here.

There were five teams obviously quicker, and all five had both cars running at the finish.

But while the pitstop issues for Sauber and Valtteri Bottas and the dreadful restart for Nico Hulkenberg helped, Tsunoda also made his own luck with a wonderfully-managed final stint that produced his fastest lap with just two laps left, on hard tyres that were approaching 30 laps in age.

Good work, well worthy of Tsunoda's first point on home soil. - Valentin Khorounzhiy


Sergio Perez's return to the front row for the first time since last May left Ferrari little to celebrate in qualifying, not even second to Verstappen, which is about all any of the front-running teams have to target at the moment.

But a clever and well-worked strategy (yes, at Ferrari!) with both cars meant Sainz jumped from fourth to third and Leclerc from seventh to fourth. It was a perfect example of how far the team has come in how it approaches and executes races at an operational level, backed up by a very fast car.

Sainz continues to impress post-appendectomy, while Leclerc starred by doing 25 laps on the medium tyre at the beginning of the race to make a one-stop work, jumping both McLarens, Alonso and Hamilton. McLaren pitting Norris seemingly unnecessarily certainly helped.

The strong performance from both drivers means Ferrari is only 21 points behind Red Bull after four races, which would have seemed like an unachievable goal for most observers pre-season. - Jack Benyon

Red Bull

Red Bull sounded slightly apprehensive about its long-run pace relative to Ferrari coming into Sunday, but if there were any concerns there, the race should've taken care of them.

The Ferraris were ultimately never going to trouble Max Verstappen wherever they started, and Sergio Perez would've probably still seen them off even if it was a row-two lockout for the Scuderia.

To be fair, this was always expected from the Red Bull at Suzuka. And I wouldn't be totally surprised if there are some within the organisation who wonder whether this should've been even more comfortable in terms of the gap.

But after the absolute mess of Melbourne, it was very much a case of normality restored and a display, not that it was ever in much doubt, that this is still a team on course to sweep this year's championships. - VK

Fernando Alonso

It's not quite a case of what a difference a year makes - the 2023 Japanese GP was barely six months ago - but compare Fernando Alonso's deficit to Max Verstappen from last year to this:

2023: 74.725s
2024: 44.272s

That, clearly, is a night-and-day difference. OK, that's still not where Alonso wants to be right now and, on balance, the Aston Martin is still probably the fifth-fastest car.

But its qualifying speed combined with solid strategy and Alonso's effectiveness is allowing the package to snipe for more than it should probably be capable of right now. In short, Aston is in the mix in a way it just wasn't towards the end of last year.

This was another fine display from Alonso, who might not be getting the headline results he was this time last year but appears to be performing at just as high a standard as you'd expect. - Jack Cozens



McLaren clearly didn't get the strategy quite right - when you're doing your second pitstop on the same lap as a direct rival is doing their first right ahead of you (having started so far behind), clearly something has gone wrong.

The feeling is that Lando Norris should've seen off at least one of the Ferraris here, but instead the aggressive early stop briefly undercutting Perez seemed to hamstring McLaren's lead car for the rest of the distance.

But McLaren also won't love what it's seen in terms of pace. It had harboured high hopes for Suzuka, and it was undeniably competitive, but not as competitive as it needs to be.

If this is its ceiling of performance right now, it's just not quite enough. - VK


Williams was the first obvious loser, with the team’s lead car being taken out on the opening lap, but even without that incident a points finish looked tough for the team.

Some will criticise Albon’s car positioning in the incident with Ricciardo but because of Ricciardo’s slow corner exit, short of stopping on track, Albon didn’t really have anywhere to go and Ricciardo didn’t leave enough room/wasn’t looking.

Sargeant had a very….Sargeant race. He had been competitive with the other cars just outside of the top 10 but an error at the first Degner sent him off the track at the second.

Those corners caught many out but none to the extent of Sargeant, and he was on cold tyres.

Reversing back onto the track should be looked at. At a tough corner and when there were a lot of drivers on cold tyres from pitting or old tyres from not having stopped yet, it felt borderline dangerous.

Another weekend of hefty damage for a team that can't afford that, too. - JB

Lance Stroll

It was a feisty race for Lance Stroll with some real highlights, but that's what happens when you start so far below where the car should belong.

Ultimately, while Alonso kept Aston among the 'haves' this weekend, with Stroll the car was fighting among the 'have-nots'. There was a clear pace hierarchy this weekend, and the Aston was clearly a 'points at the minimum' car.

Whether he was particularly at fault for missing out on the top 10 in the end still needs a closer look - that late pitstop for softs was a surprising one and didn't pay off - but a place on this side of this column was always reserved for the Canadian once he'd qualified where he had. - VK


Plenty of positivity from Mercedes that it does have a handle on its major weaknesses and the role this weekend has played in shedding light on those.

Plenty of mitigating circumstances too, it seems, for its subdued Suzuka result.

But sixth and seventh was probably on the cards had Mercedes realised sooner what most others seemed to have done pre-race: that the tyre deg was going to be severe enough that a two-stop strategy was clearly best.

That wouldn't have been an outstanding result by any means. But seventh and ninth - and jostling for fourth in the constructors' championship with an Aston Martin team that, not for the first time this season, was fighting one-handed - is nowhere near where a team of this calibre should be achieving. - JC

Daniel Ricciardo

Before it ended in the barriers so swiftly at Turn 3, this was on course to go down as an alright weekend for Ricciardo - who had ceded his car to Ayumu Iwasa in FP1 but got closer to team-mate Tsunoda over the rest of the sessions.

The qualifying 'whitewash' to start the season remained, but it at least looked a step forward - before the tangle with Alex Albon.

It was a split-second misjudgment from Ricciardo, one that hasn't warranted a penalty, but in the end if there's anyone to blame in the crash it was clearly him, moving over on Albon on entry at Turn 3 in what was presumably a case of obliviousness.

Good thing a chassis change was already on the plan for Shanghai. - VK


A total non-factor. The upgraded A524 showed some signs of life in qualifying, but it eagerly reinforced its status as F1's worst car in the race.

After all, passing cars on the same strategy should've been difficult at Suzuka, and it was, unless you were anyone racing the Alpines, in which case it was clearly quite doable.

It was exaggerated a bit by the fact Pierre Gasly was carrying floor damage, seemingly from an early clash with Esteban Ocon (adding insult to injury), but it's not like Ocon's pace was holding up that well either.

Overall from the weekend, though, Ocon's performance is the only positive to take away here. And it's more of a positive for Ocon's standing on the driver market than Alpine right now - because no driver performance can drag it to respectability at this moment. - VK

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