SUZUKA, Japan — Max Verstappen survived a dramatic first lap then coasted to victory at the Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday to move a step closer to securing his third consecutive Formula One championship.
The Red Bull driver, who missed out on the podium a week ago in Singapore, started from pole and held on for his 13th win of the season.
With Verstappen’s victory, Red Bull secured the constructors’ title, their sixth overall and second in a row. They did it with six races remaining.
“What an unbelievable season we are having,” Verstappen said. “You can all be very proud here at the track and back at the factory. You guys built a rocket ship of a car, well done.”
Verstappen, who also secured a point for the fastest lap, increased his lead over Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez to 177 points. He could wrap up his third consecutive title at the Oct. 6-8 Qatar Grand Prix.
The race got off to a thrilling start with Verstappen, Piastri and Norris going wheel-to-wheel but the Red Bull driver held his lead through the first two turns.
Verstappen commented on the excitement at the start.
“Luckily nothing happened,” Verstappen said. “It all got quite close but that’s racing, that’s how it goes at the start. And then of course you had a good battle into Turn 1 and Turn 2, I was lucky there (was) a bit more grip in Turn 2. “
It was a disastrous day for Perez, who was given a penalty for hitting Haas driver Kevin Magnussen and retired from the race after serving the penalty.
The Mexican driver won in Saudi Arabia in March and Azerbaijan in April but has struggled since.
Verstappen saw his record 10-race winning streak come to end at Marina Bay in Singapore and came to Japan determined to get back on top of the podium. Prior to Sunday’s race, he led every session at the fast Suzuka circuit, where he wrapped up last year’s championship in a rain-shortened race.
Conditions on Sunday were ideal and Verstappen took full advantage.
The safety car came out on the first lap when Alfa Romeo driver Valtteri Bottas made contact with another car resulting in debris on the track. Verstappen was able to quickly retake the lead after his first pit stop and was never seriously challenged.
A battle between the McLaren drivers was ultimately won by Norris. The Briton got ahead of Piastri at the start, dropping behind after the rookie pitted under a virtual safety car then producing enough pace to swap positions.
“The progress we’ve made is pretty outstanding,” said Norris who was also second in Singapore. “We’re coming for Red Bull.”
It was a memorable result for a Piastri with the 22-year-old driver just signing a contract with McLaren until the end of 2026.
“It’s definitely been a pretty special week,” Piastri said. “Obviously with the announcement of the extension and then qualifying on the front row and the first podium today it’s definitely been a fun week.”
Last week’s winner Carlos Sainz Jr. finished sixth for Ferrari, ahead of George Russell in the other Mercedes.
With their cars starting ninth and 11th, AlphaTauri were points contenders early on but faded as the race developed. Liam Lawson finished 11th while local favorite Yuki Tsunoda was 12th.