Max Verstappen concedes he was “lucky” to retain the lead of the Japanese Grand Prix at the start.
After seeing his record-breaking winning run come to an end amid a nightmare weekend in Singapore last time out, Verstappen rallied to thrash the opposition at Suzuka.
The reigning World Champion comfortably topped all three practice sessions before surging to an uncontested pole position by six-tenths over McLaren’s Oscar Piastri.
But Piastri initially got the better launch away from the line, prompting Verstappen to pinch the Australian to the inside on the approach to Turn 1, enabling Lando Norris to swoop around the outside and momentarily lead.
However, Verstappen was able to utilise the added grip provided by taking the “normal line” through Turn 2 to retain the lead from the fast-starting McLaren pair.
“I saw in the right mirror that Oscar had a little bit of a jump on me, but at the same time I saw in the left mirror that Lando had a real jump on me,” Verstappen recited.
“And then I tried to of course close off Oscar, but he was still there, and I saw on the left side Lando coming with a lot more speed. He then moved a bit to the right, and I was like, I can’t go more to the right! So I was trying to get straight. Luckily of course, nothing happened.
“It all got quite close, that’s racing, that’s how it goes at the start. And then we had a good battle into Turn 1, into Turn 2. I was lucky I think there was a bit more grip in Turn 2 on the normal line instead of trying to go around the outside.”
Having survived that threat and an early Safety Car, Verstappen soon slotted into an assured rhythm out front and recorded a winning margin of 18s over Norris.
“I think it was a good race,” he said. “Of course the start was a bit tight in the first two corners, but after that, the car was very nice to drive again.
“I could really look after the tyres as well, the degradation was quite in control. I knew that our strategy was going to be a bit different with the medium tyres to two times hard for some others, but it was still OK I think.
“The balance was still quite OK, traction and stuff over the whole stint. So yeah, like no real issues throughout the race, and I think that sums up the weekend as well. It’s just been an incredible weekend to drive the car.”
Asked if his RB19 had handled and performed the best it had all season, Verstappen responded: “It’s difficult to say. It’s been a really good weekend.
“I’ve had some other weekends also where the car has been really nice to drive. So, yeah. I mean sometimes it’s not only your car, but it also depends on the competition as well, how big of a gap it is.”
Despite team-mate Sergio Perez enduring a calamitous race that ended in retirement, Verstappen’s 13th victory of the season ensured Red Bull secured its sixth Constructors’ Championship.
Verstappen insists the Austrian outfit’s success this season feels “better” than last year due to the dominance of its 2023 car.
“The car has been more dominant this year, apart from Singapore, but all the other races, we’ve had a really, really good car,” he continued.
“It’s just an incredible season for everyone involved within the team, and yeah, just very proud to be a part of it, and also very proud to be working with all these amazing people here at the track, but also especially back at the factory as well, these people you might not see at the track, they’re doing a lot of hard work to make sure that our car is always in the best shape, get developed throughout the year, and be best prepared for the year after.”
Pressed to describe the team’s greatest strength this year, the Dutchman concluded: “I think just everyone knowing their role very well and being of course good at what they do. Just communication and people working together to achieve a result like this.”