Max Verstappen Returns To Form as Red Bull Clinches Title

Jackson Wheeler
18 Min Read

Max Verstappen is back to his dominating ways as Red Bull makes history and McLaren scores a double podium finish.

Autoweek rounds up the main talking points.

f1 grand prix of japan

Race winner Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing and his team celebrate their Constructors’ Championship win in parc ferme during the F1 Grand Prix of Japan at Suzuka International Racing Course on September 24, 2023 in Suzuka, Japan.

Mark Thompson//Getty Images

Red Bull Settles Constructors Title Earlier Than Ever Before

Max Verstappen’s victory at the Japanese Grand Prix was never really in doubt.

The Red Bull RB19 was made for the sweeping curves of the glorious Suzuka circuit and in the hands of a driver of Verstappen’s caliber it simply flew. Verstappen topped all three practice sessions, scored pole position by over half a second, and dominated to claim victory by 19.3 seconds.

It was the perfect riposte after Red Bull’s unusual malaise seven days beforehand in Singapore and a result which wrapped up the Constructors’ Championship for the team.

“I played Padel tennis with Max on Wednesday and he was properly fired up,” said Red Bull boss Christian Horner. “He made it clear and said that he wanted to win the race by 20 seconds. And in fairness he came within 0.7s of achieving that had it not been for a blue flag at the end there. You could tell from the very first lap in first practice when he was 1.8 seconds quicker than the rest of field on medium or soft tires that he was totally focused on this event. It’s a circuit that he loves and enjoys and it’s the ultimate driver’s circuit as a test round here. It was an outstanding performance.”

For Red Bull to wrap up the Constructors’ title with six events still left to run is a tremendously impressive achievement. No team has clinched a title with so many grands prix remaining in a season, and it has won 15 of the 16 races held.

“To achieve this sixth constructors’ championship is beyond our wildest dreams,” said Horner.

Added Verstappen: “It’s an incredible season for everyone involved in the team, I’m just very proud to be a part of it but very proud to be working with all these amazing people.”

Verstappen stands on the brink of clinching his third world title after his colossal advantage over Sergio Perez grew to 177 points. Perez had an utterly miserable race, copping damage at the start, earning a penalty for a Safety Car violation, before crashing into Kevin Magnussen. Perez retired, but was handed an in-race time penalty, so returned to the track 25 laps down merely to serve it and avoid any subsequent sanction.

A title-clinching event in Qatar is a formality for Verstappen and he can wrap it up as early as Saturday night’s Sprint Race if his advantage over Perez is 172 points.

f1 grand prix of japan

Second placed Lando Norris of Great Britain and McLaren and Third placed Oscar Piastri of Australia driving the (81) McLaren MCL60 Mercedes pose for a photo with their trophies after the F1 Grand Prix of Japan at Suzuka International Racing Course on September 24, 2023 in Suzuka, Japan.

Clive Rose//Getty Images

McLaren’s Super Double Podium

Ever since its mid-season upgrade was introduced McLaren has gone from also-rans to Red Bull’s closest challenger on several occasions. Its MCL60 has been particularly quick at high-downforce circuits with long-radius corners, and they are prevalent at Suzuka.

Lando Norris made it back-to-back runner-up positions, continuing the rich vein of form that has seen him emerge as the second-highest points scorer since McLaren introduced that upgrade in Austria.

“In a way [this was] our most deserved [podium] in terms of we’re there on pure pace,” said Norris. “Nothing had to go our way, we’re just where we deserved to be.”

But while Norris was the quicker of the McLaren drivers in the race at Suzuka it was teammate Oscar Piastri who captured attention through the weekend.

Piastri built up through practice and qualifying and became the first rookie to qualify on the front row at a grand prix for 13 years, doing so on his maiden visit to the challenging and technical figure-of-eight circuit. The Australian has a calmness and maturity that belies his youth and inexperience, and while he is far from the finished product, he is delivering on the potential that had observers – and former colleagues in junior categories – placing him in the same bracket as the likes of Charles Leclerc and George Russell. McLaren, from its very first simulator session with Piastri, was impressed not only by his level of performance but also his attitude, self-awareness, and values.

“It’s definitely been a pretty special week, obviously with the announcement of the extension and then qualifying on the front row yesterday, first podium today,” he said. “It’s been a very fun week. I’ll enjoy it, and still a lot to learn and try and improve on. But yeah, I’ll enjoy the moment for now.”

Piastri still has to gain further understanding in race management – a trait which was exposed compared to Norris at Suzuka – but his podium was surely the first of many and emphasizes just why McLaren was so keen to tie down his services through 2026.

f1 grand prix of japan

Charles Leclerc of Monaco driving the (16) Ferrari SF-23 leads Carlos Sainz of Spain driving (55) the Ferrari SF-23 during the F1 Grand Prix of Japan at Suzuka International Racing Course on September 24, 2023 in Suzuka, Japan.

Clive Mason//Getty Images

Leclerc’s Moment of Realization

Japan proved to be a relatively positive weekend for Charles Leclerc. After playing the team game for Carlos Sainz in Singapore Leclerc had the edge on his team-mate, qualifying and racing to fourth, on a weekend in which Red Bull – or at least the one with Verstappen behind the wheel – and McLaren held a performance advantage.

But there was a slightly bittersweet taste for Leclerc as until the final lap he thought he was on course for a podium finish, having mixed up the Red Bull drivers when he passed a slow-moving Perez.

Perez was on his way to retiring, and almost a lap down, due to the damage sustained to his RB19 following the collision with Magnussen. Leclerc, running fourth during that first stage, assumed that it was the Red Bull in front of him in the race – Verstappen – who had slowed when he flashed past a slow-moving RB19 on the exit of Spoon Curve, rather than a touring and almost-lapped Perez.

“I don’t know what happened there and I thought he wasn’t in the race anymore,” said Leclerc on Verstappen. “So I thought I was doing a podium until the last lap where I actually looked at the board and I was P4.”

After an amusing back-and-forth with journalists, Leclerc explained that he saw a Red Bull that “basically stopped on the left and we all overtook him,” before one journalist pointed out it was actually Perez, at which point the penny dropped.

“Oh, oh, right okay! That’s what it was: I thought Max was out of the race at that moment it was just confusing for me!”

Despite the mix-up the result, with Sainz sixth, enabled Ferrari to trim Mercedes’ advantage for second in the standings to 20 points.

f1 grand prix of japan

Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team W14 leads George Russell of Great Britain driving the (63) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team W14 during the F1 Grand Prix of Japan at Suzuka International Racing Course on September 24, 2023 in Suzuka, Japan.

Rudy Carezzevoli//Getty Images

Mercedes Still a Long Way Away From Contending

Mercedes once ruled the roost at Suzuka – scoring six successive wins from 2014 through 2019 – but has been misfiring in the current regulatory cycle. The Suzuka layout accentuated the weaknesses of the W14, particularly in the rear-grip heavy first sector, while Mercedes failed to find the sweet spot with its set-up. The outcome was Lewis Hamilton qualifying in seventh place, having endured a “nightmare” Friday trying to get comfortable with the car, while George Russell was eighth.

“To be two years in and still be a second down compared to the Red Bulls…,” said Hamilton after qualifying, trailing off. “We have a very peaky car. When we talk about knife edge it’s literally like trying to balance a knife on this tip, and this is that car, it’s like impossible. It is never perfectly balanced, it’s one way or the other, and you either oversteer or massively understeer, you can never get in the middle, but you try and get it as close as you can to the middle, but it’s very, very hard to do each weekend. But when I do get it into a decent place this is where I qualify.”

Hamilton and Russell diced in the race – coming close to clashing at one stage – and ran divergent strategies, with a two-stopping Hamilton fifth, while Russell nobly gambled on an unconventional one-stop approach and briefly threatened for the podium until falling away to seventh.

“I have no idea where the car’s going to be next year but we’re a long, long way away,” said Hamilton. “The next six months has to be the greatest six months of development we’ve ever, ever had, to close that gap and be banging on the door. The evidence is there with the McLarens and we can’t turn a blind eye to that. We’ve got to look at what they’ve done and go in that direction. That is the direction. But I truly believe my team can do it.”

f1 grand prix of japan

Valtteri Bottas of Finland driving the (77) Alfa Romeo F1 C43 Ferrari collides with Logan Sargeant of United States driving the (2) Williams FW45 Mercedes during the F1 Grand Prix of Japan at Suzuka International Racing Course on September 24, 2023 in Suzuka, Japan.

Clive Mason//Getty Images

Sargeant’s Shocker

Logan Sargeant is now the only driver whose 2024 ride remains unconfirmed and he suffered another setback at a critical juncture in the weekend. Sargeant had spoken on Thursday of his need to string together an entire race weekend, avoid the mistakes that had triggered setbacks, and to implement a better balance of risk and caution. Sadly for him words are words but it’s what’s on track that counts. And on his first flying lap in Q1 Sargeant copped a dollop of oversteer through the deceptively tricky curve that leads onto the pit straight and smacked into the barriers. Session over, last on the grid, and a fourth accident in as many grands prix, three of which were undeniably his fault.

“I guess inevitably [the crashes] grab the headlines don’t they and are quite visible, and they have masked his steady performance,” said Williams’ Head of Vehicle Performance Dave Robson. “The weekend was actually going really well, it’s such a difficult circuit to come to and find the lap time. He went about it really well on Friday, built on that in FP3, then to lose it in the very last corner of the first lap, and really it was quite a minor mistake, but at that corner once you touch the grass you’re in a whole heap of trouble.”

The impact damaged the sidepod and radiator inlet and as such Williams had to build up the spare chassis – and install a spare power unit – on Sunday morning, relegating Sargeant to a pit lane start. The manner in which the repair was carried out, with more of the spare chassis built up than was permitted ahead of the allocated time – in effect enabling Williams to have a third available chassis, which is against the rules – meant Sargeant copped a 10-second time penalty pre-race. Sargeant served that at an early first stop but was then hit with another time penalty after clumsily clattering into Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas at the hairpin. Sargeant eventually retired shortly before mid-distance, owing to progressive damage from the incident, to bring a miserable event to a close.

f1 grand prix of japan

First place winner Max Verstappen of Oracle Red Bull Racing celebrates with his team after the F1 Grand Prix of Japan at Suzuka International Racing Course in Suzuka, Japan on September 24, 2023.

Anadolu Agency//Getty Images


2013 FIA Formula 1 Japanese Grand Prix

  1. Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing 53 Laps
  2. Lando Norris McLaren +19.387
  3. Oscar Piastri McLaren +36.494
  4. Charles Leclerc Ferrari +43.998
  5. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +49.376
  6. Carlos Sainz Ferrari +50.221
  7. George Russell Mercedes +57.659
  8. Fernando Alonso Aston Martin +1:14.725
  9. Esteban Ocon Alpine +1:19.678
  10. Pierre Gasly Alpine +1:23.155
  11. Liam Lawson AlphaTauri +1 lap
  12. Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri +1 lap
  13. Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo +1 lap
  14. Nico Hülkenberg Haas +1 lap
  15. Kevin Magnussen Haas 1 +1 lap
  16. Alexander Albon Williams DNF
  17. Logan Sargeant Williams DNF
  18. Lance Stroll Aston Martin DNF
  19. Sergio Pérez Red Bull Racing DNF
  20. Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo DNF

Updated Driver Standings

  1. Max Verstappen 400
  2. Sergio Perez 223
  3. Lewis Hamilton 190
  4. Fernando Alonso 174
  5. Carlos Sainz 150
  6. Charles Leclerc 135
  7. Lando Norris 115
  8. George Russell 115
  9. Oscar Piastri 57
  10. Lance Stroll 47
  11. Pierre Gasly 46
  12. Esteban Ocon 38
  13. Alexander Albon 21
  14. Nico Hulkenberg 9
  15. Valtteri Bottas 6
  16. Zhou Guanyu 4
  17. Yuki Tsunoda 3
  18. Kevin Magnussen 3
  19. Liam Lawson 2
  20. Logan Sargeant 0
  21. Nyck De Vries 0
  22. Daniel Ricciardo 0

Constructors’ Championship

  1. Red Bull Racing Honda RBPT 623
  2. Mercedes 305
  3. Ferrari 285
  4. Aston Martin Aramco Mercedes 221
  5. McLaren Mercedes 172
  6. Alpine Renault 84
  7. Williams Mercedes 21
  8. Haas Ferrari 12
  9. Alfa Romeo Ferrari 10
  10. AlphaTauri Honda RBPT 5

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Jackson Wheeler is a skilled editor at, specializing in automotive content. With a background in Journalism and Automotive Engineering, he combines his passion for cars with his writing expertise to deliver captivating articles. Jackson's deep knowledge of automotive technology and his racing experience make him a valuable asset to the team, providing readers with informative and engaging content.
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