Normal service resumed as Max Verstappen coasts to victory in Japan

Max Verstappen returned to winning ways in dominant fashion as the world champion cruised to victory at the Japanese Grand Prix.

Having retired last time out in Australia, it was normal service resumed for the Dutchman at Suzuka where he led home a Red Bull one-two as Sergio Perez finished second.

Verstappen twice led into the first corner off the line after the race was restarted following a first-lap incident.

From there he controlled the pace of the race and the result never looked in doubt, with Verstappen taking the chequered flag and the fastest lap to open up a 13-point lead at the top of the drivers’ championship as he aims for a fourth successive title.

Max Verstappen leads from the front
Max Verstappen led from the front in Japan (Hiro Komae/AP)

A strong showing from Ferrari saw the sister car of Charles Leclerc come home fourth ahead of Norris, while the fight for the minor points places proved to be the most exciting battle of the afternoon.

Fernando Alonso hung on to take sixth for Aston Martin with a late push from George Russell seeing him pass the second McLaren of Oscar Piastri on the closing lap to secure seventh.

Lewis Hamilton had said after qualifying that his Mercedes felt better than it had in the last three years but he struggled for genuine pace and had to settle for ninth as home favourite Yuki Tsunoda took the final point, coming in 10th for RB.

“It was very nice,” Verstappen said of the win.

“I think the critical bit was of course the start to stay ahead and then the car just got better and better throughout the race.

“Everything just went really well, pits stops went really well, it couldn’t have gone any better. It was a little hiccup of course in the last race but I am happy that we are back on top.”

Verstappen shot off the line, only for a red flag to drop as Daniel Ricciardo and Alex Albon came together with both crashing into the tyre wall.

With the barrier being repaired, there was a delay of 28 minutes before a standing start got the race back under way.

The hard compound tyre was proving difficult for some on the grid, most noticeably Hamilton as he waved past team-mate Russell before falling behind other cars in and around him.

Sergio Perez
Sergio Perez was second (Hiro Komae/AP)

Norris questioned the decision but it was made in an attempt to ward off a potential late push from Russell, although he then pitted himself instead of staying out as McLaren clearly predicted.

Leclerc was running long but ran wide to allow Perez back up to second and when he eventually pitted his Ferrari colleague Sainz took third and kept hold of it to join the impressive Red Bulls on the podium.

Nico Hulkenberg was 11th and Lance Stroll 12th while Kevin Magnussen, Valtteri Bottas, Esteban Ocon, Pierre Gasly and Logan Sargeant were the final finishers.

Sargeant survived a late trip into the gravel as Williams would have been watching the laps through their fingers with Albon having already crashed out and no spare chassis available after a string of recent incidents.

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