F1 Takeaways: Red Bull re-establishes status quo at Japanese Grand Prix

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen of the Netherlands steers his car during the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at the Suzuka Circuit in Suzuka, central Japan, Sunday, April 7, 2024. (Hiro Komae/AP)

We now return to our regularly scheduled programming: Max Verstappen took the checkered flag Sunday at the Japanese Grand Prix with Sergio Perez making it a third 1-2 finish for Red Bull this season.

It’s the third consecutive year the triple world champion has won the race from pole position to earn his third win of the season. Do you sense a rule of thirds here? Verstappen also scored the fastest lap bonus point to extend his lead in the drivers’ standings to 13 points over Perez and 18 over Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc in third place.

Verstappen’s brake problems that led to an early exit during the Australian Grand Prix a fortnight ago appear to be a thing of the past as he took off unchallenged from the start (and once again after the restart) and only conceded the lead upon pitting. Once rejoining the race, it was just a matter of time before Verstappen reclaimed P1.

Red Bull should also be pleased with Perez, who qualified on the front row for the first time in almost a year. Perez just as easily regained his spot in P2 following his pit stops in a fine return to form following an underperforming fifth-place result in Australia.

The Red Bulls were untouchable as Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz, who was victorious in Australia, was a distant third finishing 20.866 seconds behind Perez and 33.401 seconds back of Verstappen.

All in all, it was back to business as usual for Red Bull.


Ferrari have been a punching bag in recent years for mishandling strategy and poor pit stops, so credit where credit is due when things work out.

A 3-4 finish was as good as any team not named Red Bull could hope for, but it also meant Ferrari — with Sainz starting fourth and Leclerc starting eighth — would have to usurp McLaren plus Aston Martin and Mercedes to an extent to accomplish that.

Ferrari opted for a one-stop pit strategy for Leclerc, who did a brilliant job at times stretching his tires to make it work even with a couple of minor hiccups. Leclerc’s lone stop happened to align with McLaren driver Lando Norris’ second trip to the pits. Ferrari was able to turn in a faster stop — 2.4 seconds in the box compared to McLaren’s 2.6 — that not only kept Leclerc ahead of Norris when they returned to the track but also allowed George Russell of Mercedes, who hadn’t pitted, to slide in between them. Sure, Norris breezed by Russell on the following lap, but the damage had already been done as Leclerc extended his advantage while the McLaren was stuck behind the Mercedes.

Sainz caught up to his teammate and passed Leclerc to snag the final spot on the podium in a “things you love to see” moment. It’s always better when teams allow their drivers to race it out on the track and not bow to orders, especially when you know Sainz will not be back with Ferrari next season.


Oh, it’s going to be a long season for Lewis Hamilton in his final year with Mercedes, isn’t it?

Hamilton, who is set to join Ferrari in 2025, made his best start of the season by qualifying seventh, which isn’t where you’d expect to see the seven-time world champion. Russell started right behind his teammate in ninth but it was clear he had the faster car and the Mercedes swapped positions as soon as they could on Lap 14.

Even then, the complaints on the team radio were adding up with Russell concerned about vibrations in his steering wheel and his helmet flying off due to turbulence while Hamilton yelled about changing strategies. Hamilton was also held up during his final pit stop due to a delay in switching his front right tire, which put him even farther back from his teammate.

Russell managed to out-manoeuvre McLaren’s Oscar Piastri on the final lap to finish seventh, but Hamilton had to settle for ninth. This isn’t how things were expected to play out.


Aston Martin needed to do something bold with Lance Stroll if they wished to see the Canadian driver finish in the points. Stroll was already in a tough spot out of the gate starting 16th on the grid after he was eliminated during the first run of qualifying.

Stroll made an extra pit stop that set him back in the short term with the hope that the soft tires would help him close the roughly 20-second gap to Yuki Tsunoda in 10th place. It didn’t work out, however, as Stroll finished 12th. Still, kudos to the team for at least trying something different.

Teammate Fernando Alonso was his usual steady self finishing sixth to keep Aston Martin (33 points) on the tail of fourth-place Mercedes (34) in the constructors’ championship.


• RB’s Yuki Tsunoda finished 10th in his home race to add another point to his tally. Tsunoda only needed to complete a single lap to finish ahead of his teammate for the fourth consecutive time to start the season though. Daniel Ricciardo collided with Williams driver Alex Albon on the opening lap and crashed out as the veteran driver remains pointless this year.

• It was a near-disastrous day for Williams as the team still only has the two chassis with no backup available yet. We saw how that played out in Australia when Albon crashed during practice and swapped rides with teammate Logan Sargeant for the grand prix. Sargeant didn’t have to worry about losing his ride this time, but he did hit the wall hard during practice to damage his front wing and also went off the track late in the race after hitting a curb. He avoided critical damage this time but it had to feel too close for comfort in the Williams garage.

• Williams remains one of three teams that have yet to score points. Sauber’s pit woes continued for Valtteri Bottas plus a gearbox issue for Zhou Guanyu had them out of contention while Alpine was virtually a non-factor once again. Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly even banged wheels at one point, which is the last thing a team needs to be worried about.

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