Max Verstappen’s return to winning ways at Suzuka provided the long-awaited confirmation of Red Bull’s sixth Constructors’ Championship.
While Verstappen was in a class of his own, his Red Bull team-mate delivered a stand-out performance for all the wrong reasons.
With varying success also exhibited in our current cohort of rookies, how did the Formula 1 field fair in Japan?
Max Verstappen – 10
Qualified: P1, Race: P1
Rising to the top once again, Verstappen’s dominance in Japan certainly felt like normal service had resumed. Verstappen stormed to an emphatic pole position on Sunday, six-tenths clear of his closest rivals and held a staggering eight-tenth advantage over team-mate Sergio Perez.
The Dutchman placed his car perfectly to defend against the fast-starting McLarens on the run towards Turn 1 and would manage the subsequent Safety Car restart with ease.
While the remainder of his race was straightforward, Verstappen still crossed the line with a 19s winning margin. With Perez out of the running, Verstappen delivered a sixth Constructors’ title for the team in a manner reminiscent of how the team had built such an advantage.
Sergio Perez –2
Qualified: P5, Race: DNF
While Verstappen demonstrated a near-flawless weekend, Perez’s weekend was a complete disaster.
Despite qualifying fifth, the Mexican was comprehensively outclassed and outperformed by his team-mate. With 16 races under his belt in the RB19, there really can’t be any excuses anymore for such a qualifying disparity given his machinery.
Sunday provided an opportunity for redemption but his race was jeopardised before Turn 1 as he was sandwiched between Lewis Hamilton and Carlos Sainz. He picked up damage and would box at the end of the first lap, but overtook Fernando Alonso under Safety Car conditions when doing so.
Desperation and frustration prevailed as he launched an overly ambitious overtaking attempt on Kevin Magnussen, which would send the Haas around on Lap 15. Perez would retire after picking up more damage, but return to the race some 26 laps down to finish serving his penalties before retiring for a second time.
Perez picked up four penalty points and a total of ten seconds in time penalties in an abysmal weekend which summed up the night and day difference between himself and the champion-elect.
Lando Norris – 9
Qualified: P3, Race: P2
Norris may have been outperformed by his rookie team-mate on Saturday but his overtake on Oscar Piastri around the outside of Turn 1 showed his class.
Norris fell behind Piastri again after a Virtual Safety Car, but his race pace was far stronger than his team-mate.
Offered P2 by Piastri, Norris went on to stretch his legs and open up a 15-second lead on his team-mate at the line. By far, McLaren’s lead driver was the best of the rest on Sunday as the team claimed its best result of the season.
Oscar Piastri – 8
Qualified: P2, Race: P3
A contract extension, a first front-row start in a grand prix, and a first F1 podium. Piastri’s first Suzuka outing will undoubtedly remain a memorable one for all the right reasons.
While unable to match Norris in race trim, the rookie picked up a well-deserved maiden F1 podium as a justified reward for his heroic qualifying lap. Piastri had struggled with tyre degradation over the course of the race but held on well as he continues to grow from strength to strength.
Charles Leclerc – 9
Qualified: P4, Race: P4
Leclerc appeared to extract as much as he could from his Ferrari over the course of Sunday’s race. Unfortunately for him, maintaining P4 doesn’t match the lofty heights achieved by Sainz in Singapore.
He wasn’t able to threaten the McLarens in the race to take a third consecutive podium for the Scuderia. However, his Suzuka performance showed a more comfortable version of the Monegasque driver than we had seen recently.
Carlos Sainz – 7
Qualified: P6, Race: P6
Since arriving in Japan, the Singapore winner had always been a step behind Leclerc. A deficit of three-tenths to his team-mate in qualifying, Sainz escaped major drama after contact on the opening lap.
Despite being more comfortable in the race, the Spaniard was undercut by Hamilton and was compromised by his team’s strategy calls which likely cost him a fifth-place finish. He topped off a solid drive by regaining position in the closing laps with a move on the one-stopping George Russell.
Lewis Hamilton – 7
Qualified: P7, Race: P5
The seven-time World Champion held a three-tenth lead over Russell on Saturday and made a rapid start until contact with Perez led to minor damage.
The Briton’s opening stint was messy with an error at the Degner curves leaving him vulnerable to an attack from his team. Hamilton came out on top in that fight and would undercut the Ferrari of Sainz.
Mercedes’ team orders allowed Hamilton to pass the one-stopping Russell with ease and build a gap to the chasing Ferrari.
George Russell – 6
Qualified: P8, Race: P7
Mercedes took a gamble with Russell’s strategy, pivoting to a one-stop strategy on a weekend where a three-stop arguably could have proved more successful.
Naturally, Russell’s pace would fade later on in his stints but the Briton fought hard with Hamilton, who he would later have to yield for as the two-stop strategy prevailed.
Ceding position to his team-mate also opened the door for Sainz – however, seventh place was the highest reward expected given the strategy call.
Fernando Alonso – 7
Qualified: P10, Race: P8
The early season dream is clearly over for Aston Martin. Still, the team’s only competitive driver over the course of a race weekend, the two-time champion only challenged for minor points.
Alonso jumped to sixth in the opening exchanges but inevitably fell behind the Mercedes drivers. The Spaniard grew frustrated with his team’s strategy, but realistically P8 was all that could have been expected of the Aston Martin given the latest performance trends.
Lance Stroll – 4
Qualified: P17, Race: DNF
After yet another disappointing Q1 elimination for Stroll, the Canadian found himself in 12th at the end of Lap 1. Following a problem with the deployment of the DRS on his rear wing, Stroll retired after an uneventful 22 laps.
Esteban Ocon – 6
Qualified: P14, Race: P9
After being involved in an opening lap collision with Alex Albon and Valtteri Bottas, being arguably the most guilty party, Ocon recovered from 14th on the grid to a points finish.
His finishing position was ultimately benefitted by Alpine’s instructions for Pierre Gasly to yield on the final lap.
Pierre Gasly – 6.5
Qualified: P12, Race: P10
Gasly emerged as the stronger Alpine in qualifying despite a crash in FP2 limiting his preparation.
The Frenchman would have beaten his compatriot and team-mate if it weren’t for the team orders employed on the final lap as a result of a pre-race agreement in the team despite being allowed past Ocon in the laps prior.
Gasly’s frustration showed post-race, validated by the fact that the one point lost from the inversion made the difference between remaining 11th in the standings and tying Lance Stroll in 10th.
Liam Lawson – 7.5
Qualified: P11, Race: P11
Lawson had a point to prove at the Japanese Grand Prix after entering the weekend with the knowledge that he would not join the team as a full-time driver in 2024.
The Kiwi’s weekend was yet another demonstration of why he should have been considered further as he matched the incumbent Tsunoda, but fell just short of joining him in Q3.
Lawson fought back in the race, overtaking Tsunoda at the start. He fell behind Tsunoda due to an undercut, but would return the favour at the second stop.
Another strong statement from Lawson who must now show patience and professionalism after being snubbed in favour for Daniel Ricciardo next season.
Yuki Tsunoda – 6.5
Qualified: P9, Race: P12
Tsunoda benefited from the upgraded AlphaTauri to make a Q3 appearance on home soil.
Losing out to Lawson on the opening lap, Tsunoda regained position with an undercut in response to an earlier stop from Nico Hulkenberg.
Again losing position to Lawson who was handed the undercut by the team for the second stop, Tsunoda’s frustration grew after becoming stuck in traffic for much of the race.
Guanyu Zhou – 5.5
Qualified: P19, Race: P13
An error in Q1 all but solidified a back-row start for Zhou, which contributed to him picking up front-wing damage in the first-lap chaos.
Zhou recovered to a respectable P13 after outperforming the Haas pairing and flirted on the fringe of the points on Sunday afternoon.
However, the Alfa Romeo never had the pace to challenge for points after making positions primarily through the retirement of others.
Valtteri Bottas – 5
Qualified: P16, Race: DNF
Bottas was a blameless victim in both of the incidents he was involved in on Sunday. The Finn was pinched between Ocon and Albon on the run towards Turn 1 where he sustained damage.
The Finn was again the victim when Logan Sargeant locked up at Turn 11, punting the Alfa Romeo off-circuit. Bottas retired from the race after sustaining excessive damage.
Nico Hulkenberg – 5
Qualified: P18, Race: P14
For the second race in a row, the usually stellar Hulkenberg was out-qualified by Kevin Magnussen. The German soon regained the place and ran as high as P12.
But the high tyre degradation of the Haas exacerbated by the challenging Suzuka circuit would mean a points finish was effectively off the cards before the weekend had even started.
Kevin Magnussen – 5.5
Qualified: P15, Race: P15
Despite the challenges that the car and track combination would provide, Magnussen did well to squeeze his way into Q2.
That was as good as the weekend would get for the Dane whose progress was compromised by a punt from the out-of-position Perez.
The incident forced an early stop, sentencing him to finish last of the runners some 20 seconds behind Hulkenberg. However, his pace across the weekend at a track which exposed the characteristic flaws of the VF-23 showed promise.
Alex Albon – 6
Qualified: P13, Race: DNF
Albon did well to drag his Williams into Q2 but the weekend would result in another deviation from his strong record throughout 2023. However, by no means was he to blame.
His car was sent airborne before even reaching the first corner, leaving his car “undrivable”. It was no surprise to see him retire midway through the race as a result of the damage which derailed his weekend’s efforts.
Logan Sargeant – 3
Qualified: P20, Race: DNF
Sargeant earns himself a three simply on the basis of his rookie status. That status does not excuse his recent run of form, but it certainly is a contributing factor.
It’s no secret that the American is under increasing pressure to perform at Williams if he wants to protect his future in F1, but he can only do so if he performs.
Sargeant’s performance in Japan drew attention for all the wrong reasons as he crashed at the final kink before the finish line in Q1, tearing apart his FW43.
The mistake had massive consequences for the team and Sargeant’s weekend as his car required a full rebuild around the spare chassis, which resulted in a 10-second time penalty before the race even began. Then, the American looked out of control in the Williams as he locked up running into Turn 11 and collected Bottas who attempted to pass him around the outside.
A litany of errors plunges his F1 future into further doubt.