SUZUKA, Japan (Reuters) – Formula One leader Max Verstappen ran away with the Japanese Grand Prix from pole position on Sunday as his dominant Red Bull team secured the constructors’ title for the second year in a row.

The victory at Suzuka was the Dutch driver’s 13th in 16 races this season and left him on the brink of a third world championship after Mexican team mate Sergio Perez, his closest rival, failed to finish.

McLaren’s Lando Norris and Australian rookie Oscar Piastri, on a grand prix podium for the first time, finished second and third.

Verstappen, who also took the fastest lap bonus and now leads Perez by a massive 177 points, can seal his third drivers’ title in a row with five rounds to spare at next month’s Qatar Grand Prix.

That could even come on a Saturday, with Qatar a sprint weekend carrying extra points.

Verstappen now has 400 points to the Mexican’s 223 while Red Bull have an unassailable lead of 318 points over Mercedes.

The constructors’ title was Red Bull’s sixth since they entered the sport in 2005 and it came at a circuit owned by engine partner Honda.

“Max, that was absolutely fantastic,” said team boss Christian Horner over the radio in congratulating him on a 48th career win and Red Bull’s 15th of the season. “You were totally awesome and dominant this weekend.”

Verstappen, who celebrates his 26th birthday before the next race, thanked the team in reply for the “unbelievable season” they are having.

“You can all be very proud here at the track and back at the factory. You have built a rocket ship of a car,” he added, after taking the chequered flag 19.387 seconds ahead of Norris, whose second place was the Briton’s fourth in seven races.


McLaren’s first double podium of the season, with team orders ultimately deciding the positions on strategy, cemented their growing status as Red Bull’s closest challengers on track.

“We’re not close to Max but we are not miles away either so I’m very happy,” said Norris. “We’re getting there. We are pushing and the progress we have made is pretty outstanding.”

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc finished fourth with seven-times world champion Lewis Hamilton fifth in a bouncing, sliding Mercedes that he said left him exhausted.

Carlos Sainz, winner of the previous race in Singapore to end Red Bull’s hopes of going through the season unbeaten, finished sixth in his Ferrari.

George Russell took seventh for Mercedes after letting Hamilton through, reluctantly, on team orders and then being passed by Sainz on fresher tyres.

Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso — who complained over the radio that an early pit stop had thrown him “to the lions” — was eighth and ahead of Alpines Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly.

Verstappen suffered wheelspin at the start but kept the McLarens behind, with Norris passing Piastri to slot into second place.

Behind them there was immediate chaos, with the safety car deployed for three laps due to debris on track after a number of clashes including Perez and Hamilton.

Perez pitted for a new front wing but collected a five-second penalty for an infringement of the safety car rules, and his race went from bad to worse when he then collided with Haas’s Kevin Magnussen on lap 12.

That incident triggered a brief virtual safety car period to remove debris.

The Mexican pitted again for another front wing, taking his penalty and returning in last place before being slapped with another five-second sanction for the collision and stopping in the pits on lap 15.

Perez then returned to the track nearly an hour later, and with 13 laps remaining, to serve the penalty and avoid the risk of a grid drop at the next race.

His final retirement ended Red Bull’s 100% finishing record for the season.

Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas was the first to retire after contact with both the Williams drivers, while Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll also failed to finish due to a rear wing failure.

The Williams pair of Alex Albon and Logan Sargeant, the latter starting from the pit lane with a 10-second penalty and then having five more added for a collision with Bottas, also retired.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Peter Rutherford)

Formula One F1 – Japanese Grand Prix – Suzuka Circuit, Suzuka, Japan – September 24, 2023 Red Bull’s Max Verstappen celebrates after winning the Japanese Grand Prix REUTERS/Issei Kato