Revenge is a dish best served cold? Based on the evidence here in Japan, Max Verstappen doesn’t believe in that mantra.
No, this was a thrilling retaliation. On the scorching asphalt at Suzuka, Verstappen scorched his opposition, as he has already done twelve times this season. Perhaps those doubters would rather ‘suck an egg’ than dare to question the Dutchman again.
Of course, no one seriously believed that Verstappen’s stranglehold on his competition would end anytime soon.
That outing in Singapore, where his 10-race marathon winning streak came to an abrupt halt, may have sparked a cautious wave of optimism in the paddock, but the facts remain that Verstappen will win the No. 3 world title in Qatar in two weeks’ time with still five races to go: no Formula 1 driver has secured the championship with more races to go.
Verstappen, clear-headed after a ‘mature’ post-Marina Bay examination and a thrashing from chief engineer Gianpiero Lambiase at padel tennis, arrived at Suzuka ready to send a message.
Max Verstappen played the leading role in winning the Japanese GP in dominant conditions at Suzuka
Verstappen’s victory gave Red Bull a sixth constructors’ championship
But where he has shown a willingness in the past to take on rivals in a dogged slugfest, this was a punishing, one-sided defeat. He was the first driver on the track on Friday morning and hasn’t looked back, completing a grueling twelve-lap demolition that saw him walk away without a bruise in sight.
Although an opportunistic Lando Norris tried to surprise his good friend when the lights were out, he grabbed a gap left open by Verstappen, with the Dutchman preoccupied by the Brit’s McLaren teammate Oscar Piastri. Norris nosed his way to the front, before Verstappen quickly regained the lead and Piastri was pushed into third.
That conversation, however brief, made Norris optimistic. “We’re coming for Red Bull,” he said as Christian Horner and his team celebrated their sixth Constructors’ Championship. ‘We’re not close to Max, but we’re not miles away either. We’re pushing, we’re getting there.’
An explosive start gave way to a subdued next four laps, with the safety car deployed after Valtteri Bottas damaged his Alfa Romeo. His day went from bad to worse when crash-prone Logan Sargeant sent him into the gravel. ‘What the hell!?’ was Finn’s surprised reply. Both drivers withdrew from the race, two of the five men had to retire prematurely.
Bottas’ former teammate Lewis Hamilton had his hands full with new Mercedes partner George Russell. Hamilton, who looked like a third member of Daft Punk with his special chrome helmet, challenged his young teammate to a game of chicken as they flew straight through the house side by side. It was Russell who trembled and relented first.
The battle resumed at Spoon Curve as Russell attempted to exploit a gap offered by Hamilton. The seven-time champion forced his teammate off the track, in a copy of the incident he suffered two years ago in his fight with Max Verstappen in Brazil.
“Who are we trying to fight here, each other or the others?” Russell rages on the radio. Toto Wolff, watching from Monaco as he recovered from knee surgery, undoubtedly tore out his hair.
Norris also bellowed his frustrations over the team radio after losing his position to Piastri, who pitted for hard tires under the virtual safety car. ‘What’s he doing?’ Norris groaned. “It just ruins the race now.”
Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri took the podium in an impressive race for McLaren
Christian Horner (left) was delighted after the race as Red Bull won the constructors’ championship
The Australian may be a future star of the sport, but he was shown in no uncertain terms that he is still the number 2 at McLaren, and was pushed aside for his more experienced teammate. Although a first podium here will have softened the blow.
Chaos ensued in the pit lane as chaos surrounded Verstappen’s confidence-stricken Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez. The Mexican, perhaps keen to catch an early flight home from Tokyo, bowed out on lap 15, but after knocking Kevin Magnussen off course he was given a five-second penalty by the stewards.
Red Bull, keen for him to sit out in Qatar, pushed him back onto the track 26 laps later before bringing him back in for good. “Leave the car,” a defeated Perez pleaded during that bizarre stint.
It was a scorching afternoon when Sergio Perez was forced to withdraw from the race after sustaining vehicle damage
Elsewhere, part three of the battle between Hamilton and Russell reached a compelling climax. Russell, who was ahead of Hamilton due to a one-stop strategy, stubbornly refused to give up his position.
“That’s an order, George,” came the reply from the garage. “So we’re playing the team game now?” Russell struck back as he fell back.
Lewis Hamilton was engaged in a tense battle with George Russell throughout the proceedings
Russell (right) was not happy with Mercedes’ decision to reverse the drivers in recent laps
Mercedes, trying to emulate Sainz’s DRS genius in Singapore, tried to stop the Ferrari driver, but Hamilton could not keep Russell within range and the Spaniard passed.
“We wasted all this time for no reason,” Hamilton despaired.
But Verstappen did not spare a moment at the front during this Sunday parade, who won by 19.4 seconds. Perhaps Mark Twain’s words crossed his mind as he crossed the line.
“The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” More likely is a Dutch-inspired egg reaction.