Max Verstappen returned to the top step of the podium at the Japanese Grand Prix to seal the Constructors’ Championship for Red Bull.
The Dutchman was untroubled on his way to a 13th win of the year, beating out the McLaren pair of Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri, who scored his maiden podium.
Amid huge concerns over tyre degradation, the top eight opted for the Medium tyre. Verstappen reacted strongly initially but Piastri began to draw alongside on the second phase of the start. As the Red Bull squeezed the Australian, the sister McLaren of Norris attempted to swing around the outside of Turn 1, but Verstappen rebuffed the Briton’s attempts to retain the lead.
Carlos Sainz moved ahead of Sergio Perez to make it two Ferraris in the top five. Replays showed that a slow getaway for Charles Leclerc caused a chain reaction that saw Sergio Perez and Lewis Hamilton touch as the Mercedes driver ran out of room.
Consequently, Perez picked up damage that required a pit stop and Hamilton, along with team-mate George Russell, dropped places.
However, there was considerably more damage further back as Alex Albon and Valtteri Bottas got tangled up on the blast to Turn 1, handing the latter a damaged front wing and a puncture. Zhou Guanyu was unfortunate to also inherit damage, ensuring both Alfa Romeo drivers headed to the pits.
The Safety Car was swiftly deployed to clear the ensuing debris and remained on track at the head of the field until the end of Lap 4.
Aston Martin had elected to start its cars on the Soft tyre and both drivers utilised it to maximum effect. Fernando Alonso gained three places to sixth, while Lance Stroll climbed five positions up to 11th.
Meanwhile, prior to the racing stopping, the two AlphaTauri drivers had been battling hard, with Liam Lawson emerging on top to claim ninth from Yuki Tsunoda.
The race resumed on Lap 5 and Bottas immediately had another adventure. The Finn attempted to go around the outside of Logan Sargeant into the Turn 11 hairpin but was pitched into a spin. Although Bottas was sent back out onto the track after another trip to the pits, he reported that his car was undrivable and became the first retirement.
Further ahead, ex-Mercedes partner Hamilton contested position with his current team-mate George Russell. Hamilton had been informed he had picked up minor damage from the tag with Perez and Russell launched an attack into the chicane, but Hamilton retained the place into Turn 1.
Having set off on the Soft tyre, Alonso detoured to the pits at the end of Lap 11 for the Hard compound to protect any undercut attempt from Mercedes behind.
There was more contact at the Turn 11 hairpin with the recovering Sergio Perez locking up and sending Kevin Magnussen’s Haas into a spin. The Red Bull had damaged his front wing for the second time within 13 laps and had to pit for repairs again.
Right as Piastri also made his way into the pitlane for fresh rubber, a Virtual Safety Car was called to remove the debris that had been left stricken by Perez and Magnussen’s clumsy clash. But the VSC ended before Verstappen and the other leaders came round to take a ‘cheap’ pitstop themselves.
Perez’s scrappy afternoon came to an end at the end of Lap 14, leaving Max Verstappen, who had opened up a near 10s lead over Norris, as the sole remaining Red Bull.
Piastri utilised his new tyres to dispatch Pierre Gasly for seventh and had closed the margin to net race leader Verstappen by the time he came into the pits shortly after.
Hamilton had a wide moment on the exit of Degner 2, providing Russell with the chance to overtake his countryman on the approach to Spoon Curve. Hamilton was not willing to let his younger team-mate pass, though, as the pair ran wide and off the track.
That battle would be concluded for the time being as Hamilton followed Verstappen into the pitlane. Next time around, Norris and Leclerc also discarded their starting tyres, with Piastri’s stop under the VSC enabling him to manoeuvre back into a net second.
Leclerc wasted no time in regaining the lost place to the early-stopping Alonso, while Sainz proceeded to exit the pit lane behind the Aston Martin. The first of the two Ferraris then returned to the top five by putting a move on Esteban Ocon, who was yet to stop.
Mercedes had left Russell out on track, thus handing him the race lead, but Verstappen soon returned to the summit on Lap 19.
Sainz took advantage of the tyre offset at the Spoon Curve to demote Alonso to eighth before also overtaking Ocon to take sixth down the start-finish straight. Hamilton then breezed past Alonso with a move down the inside into the high-speed 130R corner, then repeated Sainz’s move on the Alpine.
Alonso had vented about Aston Martin’s decision to stop him early, likening it to being “thrown to the lions”. The Silverstone squad’s challenging race unravelled further as Stroll was told to retire his AMR23, becoming the third driver to drop out from the race.
Russell eventually pitted as Norris closed back on Piastri in the fight for second behind the dominant Verstappen out front. The British ace voiced his concerns over the radio and McLaren relented by informing Piastri to hand Norris the place on Lap 27.
Perez was seen climbing back into his car at the halfway stage, potentially allowing him to serve his five-second penalty for tangling with Magnussen. After a period of deliberation and the damage repaired, Perez was sent back into the action on Lap 40.
However, the retirement rate had already risen as both Williams exited before Perez returned to the fray, with worsening damage on both cars cited as the reason.
Alonso had boxed for a second time but was told to avoid mounting the kerbs in order to avoid a repeat of the rear wing failure that curtailed the sister car’s participation.
Leclerc pitted for new rubber for a second time at the end of Lap 34, accompanied by Hamilton as both drivers went onto the Hard tyre with the aim of now going to the end.
Ferrari decided not to respond to Hamilton’s undercut threat by leaving Sainz out on the track. McLaren, on the other hand, pitted both its cars in successive laps.
Sainz eventually came in at the end of Lap 38, but Hamilton’s superior pace on fresh tyres earned him the position over the Ferrari.
Prior to that, Gasly had been able to move past a defenceless Nico Hulkenberg to claim 10th, propelling him up into the points, one place behind team-mate Ocon.
Piastri had rapidly closed on Russell, who was attempting to execute an ambitious one-stop strategy to notch a surprise podium. However, the McLaren lined the move up through the chicane at the end of the lap and nailed Russell around the outside into Turn 1.
Leclerc was the next to challenge Russell, making an overtake stick at the second attempt around the outside of Turn 2.
Hamilton then closed up on his team-mate to resume their contest, with the drivers warned to keep matters clean. The seven-time champion, however, was concerned about the threat of Sainz, with Russell then informed to invert then positions.
Despite remonstrating, Russell abided by the order to let Hamilton through, leaving the secondary Mercedes vulnerable to the Ferrari behind. Hamilton had been told to hand Russell DRS but the plan backfired as Sainz still blasted past the Mercedes.
Following a slump in Singapore, Verstappen ensured normal service resumed with another commanding victory in 2023. Despite Perez being hauled back into retirement, Red Bull achieved the results it required to retain the Constructors’ title.
McLaren secured its first double podium since the team claimed a 1-2 finish at the 2021 Italian Grand Prix, Norris beating Piastri, who scored his maiden Formula 1 podium in his rookie campaign.
Leclerc came home a comfortable fourth for Ferrari, with Hamilton holding off Sainz to complete the top five. Russell trailed home behind that pair, leaving Alonso and the Alpine drivers to round out the points places.
The two AlphaTauris, Zhou’s Alfa Romeo and the Haas duo were the five drivers who made the chequered flag empty handed.