Max Verstappen took an emphatic win at Suzuka, putting an end to all speculations about Red Bull Racing’s form following their disastrous Singapore Grand Prix.
The soon-to-be triple Formula 1 Champion was on a mission from the moment his RB19 turned a wheel around Suzuka, topping all three practice sessions, and then going on to take pole by quite a margin, even bettering that with a dominant drive on Sunday to win by almost 20s from Lando Norris, a gap Verstappen predicted before the race.
What makes Verstappen’s achievement even more significant is that it came after a terrible weekend for him and Red Bull in Singapore, where the RB19 just did not work, and while rumors were all over the place that a recent FIA Technical Directive on flexible aero parts slowed the Bulls down, Verstappen left his rivals sucking on an egg after the race at Suzuka.
The Dutchman’s fastest lap of the race was over a second faster than second-fastest Norris, and that’s keeping in mind he probably wasn’t pushing flat out, whilst we cannot forget his monster of a qualifying lap on Saturday almost six-tenths of a second faster than Norris as well.
Speaking of Norris and McLaren, the Woking squad were the second-fastest team at Suzuka showing they are on an upward trajectory as they keep bringing upgrades to their MCL60 that work out of the box.
On the other hand, Ferrari had to settle for third, while Mercedes were nowhere near them, Lewis Hamilton even going as far as saying his W14 was as bad as its predecessor, the W13. James Allison still has a mountain to climb.
Red Bull take their sixth F1 Constructors’ Championship
For the second year in a row, and fittingly so, Red Bull celebrated an F1 Championship at Suzuka, the home race of their power unit supplier, Honda.
In 2022 it was Verstappen’s second Drivers’ Crown that they celebrated, while in 2023 the Milton Keynes squad toasted their sixth Constructors’ Title with their Honda colleagues.
The Red Bull RB19 might end up being the most potent F1 machine the team have produced under the technical leadership of Adrian Newey, and the Singapore glitch will do very little to tarnish its record.
But it does not only take a fast car to win, and Red Bull have been operating at a very high level on all fronts: Strategy, pitstops, trackside operations… you name it, and that has not been restricted to their winning years only.
Even when Mercedes were dominating, and without having fast enough cars to challenge them, Red Bull have always bothered the eight-time Constructors’ Champions with the way they went about their racing, always coming up with innovative strategies making sure all the team’s departments are operating with perfection.
At that time, the only thing Red Bull lacked was a faster car, and now they have one, a bloody fast one that is, hence their utter dominance in 2023, as they turned their performance up a notch after 2022.
Red Bull have always been looked down on, as they weren’t owned by an automaker, instead, they are an energy drinks company, but they have proven year after year that they are racers, serious ones, and as such are on the way to creating their F1 legacy, a legacy that may well eclipse that of other F1 teams that consider themselves as thoroughbred F1 racers.
Oscar Piastri takes his first F1 podium
Piastri got his hands on the upgraded McLaren MCL60 at Suzuka, a car that was given to Norris in Singapore, and he did not waste any time getting the best out of it.
Remember that in the un-upgraded car, he was seventh in the race in Singapore, which was impressive, but in Japan he was even more so, outqualifying his teammate on a track he has never driven before.
In the race, Piastri showed he still lacked experience and in the end, had to settle for third place behind Norris, but kudos to him for admitting with admirable humility that he didn’t do the best job in the race, especially in the tyre-management department which meant his race pace was down on his teammate.
But an F1 podium is now ticked off, and Piastri will now have less pressure to show his worth. Let’s be honest, many were sceptical about the rookie following the controversial manner in which he joined McLaren amid a legal fight with Alpine in 2022.
The Aussie has delivered and proved he is a talent worthy of an F1 drive and a top one as well, and has been impressive in the calm manner he went about his business so far in 2023. His calmness over the team radio after the race in Japan; noteworthy if not surprising and belies his young age.
McLaren have done well to lock Piastri down in a contract extension, and we can only look forward to seeing him grow in the coming years.
Suzuka Quick hits
Following the highs of Singapore, Ferrari received a reality check in Japan, not a nasty one though. They were simply not fast enough, third fastest, but delivered a decent operation last Sunday.
Mercedes on the other hand were the fastest race car in Singapore, but were fourth fastest in Japan, and while Hamilton did well to take fifth on Sunday, his verdict on his W14 was quite damning.
Another F1 weekend, another crash for Logan Sargeant, and that repair bill is becoming even bigger, which is the last thing James Vowles wants to deal with as he works to rebuild Williams under the tight confines of the F1 budget cap. Safe to say the American rookie’s days are numbered.
AlphaTauri announced Yuki Tsunoda and Daniel Ricciardo as their 2024 drivers, and honestly I was disappointed for Liam Lawson, as he deserved a shot at a full time F1 seat. It is understandable that Ricciardo was kept as he has experience in car setup and development, but Tsunoda was most probably kept as part of Red Bull’s relations with Honda – that is my own opinion, but I don’t think it’s an outlandish one. Ricciardo is not the driver he used to be and Tsunoda is no more convincing in 2023 than he was in 2022, despite the colorful language over the radio becoming less frequent, but it is what it is.
Anyway, and following up on the previous point, Lawson beating Tsunoda in Japan was the best response he could send to the Red Bull driver management.
Sergio Perez had a terrible weekend, and while one cannot deny his contributions in Red Bull’s Constructors’ fight this year, not scoring any points on the weekend they sealed their sixth Title must hurt. One can only imagine how the Mexican felt after what can only be described as a clumsy performance. That move on Kevin Magnussen… What the hell was that?