Japanese GP: What happened to Mercedes as Red Bull and Max Verstappen hit back at Suzuka | F1 News

Red Bull hit back at the Japanese Grand Prix in perfect fashion after a troubled weekend in Melbourne as Max Verstappen led team-mate Sergio Perez and Carlos Sainz in a very strategic race.

Charles Leclerc’s well-executed bold strategy gave him fourth from McLaren’s Lando Norris, while Fernando Alonso showed his defensive skills again to hold off George Russell and Oscar Piastri, who made contact on the penultimate lap.

Lewis Hamilton had a dismal day in ninth, with Yuki Tsunoda taking a point on home soil as his RB team-mate Daniel Ricciardo crashed out, together with Alex Albon, on the first lap.

Sky Sports F1 takes a look at the key talking points from an intriguing Japanese Grand Prix.

Red Bull back on top

After Verstappen’s retirement and Ferrari’s one-two in Australia, the Dutchman responded just like he did in Suzuka six months ago.

Back then, Red Bull came into Japan on the back of a difficult weekend at the Singapore Grand Prix, won by Sainz, and Verstappen dominated the event as he did again on Sunday.

His qualifying lap wasn’t quite as special this time around but he overcame unknowns about tyre wear and different strategy variables to execute his fourth win of the season.

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Ted Kravitz is in the paddock to review all the biggest stories from the Japanese Grand Prix.

“In the first stint it took a few laps before I got into a nice rhythm,” said Verstappen, who leads the Drivers’ Championship by 13 points from Perez.

“After that, we made some little changes for the second stint, then the car really came alive. I could push when I needed to, look after the tyres when I wanted to and it was a really good feeling again.”

It seems like Red Bull’s upgrades at Suzuka have moved them further ahead of the field, with their new floor, brake ducts and sidepod helping Verstappen to finish 20 seconds ahead of Sainz at the chequered flag.

Both drivers needed to adapt to the upgrades and Verstappen wasn’t happy with his race pace and the balance after practice.

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Highlights of the Japanese Grand Prix from the Suzuka Circuit.

There was a moment on the radio when Verstappen’s engineer said “I don’t want to say I told you so” when the three-time world champion was leading. Verstappen explained what was behind the discussion.

“We had, well, not an argument, but he was like, ‘are you sure you want to do this?’ I’m like, ‘yeah, I’m pretty sure’. Turned out to be wrong. So he was right,” he said.

“But in a way, it also fires me up, because I’m like, OK, well, even I’m not entirely happy with the balance now, I’ll still try to be as consistent as I can be without shouting back at him. But we have a great relationship. And yeah, it works well like that.”

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Max Verstappen believes Red Bull will be able to do even better as the season progresses, following his win in Japan.

Perez needed to overtake some cars on his way to second but remained calm when Red Bull left him needing to pass Norris and Leclerc during the final stint to complete the one-two.

He also produced two brave moves on Mercedes duo Hamilton and Russell at 130R earlier in the race and is mounting a strong case to keep his Red Bull seat for 2025.

The Mexican has three podiums from four races, and he can only further enhance his chances of remaining in the fastest car on the grid by ending a winless streak that dates back to April last year.

Perez’s performances are not going unnoticed by Red Bull team principal Christian Horner, who told Sky Sports F1: “It’s great to bounce back with a one-two finish in Japan, Honda’s homeland. A great performance, a great drive from Max, also Checo again putting in a strong performance.”

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Sergio Perez says he’s relaxed about the rumours of his seat with Red Bull and expects within a month he’ll know his future with the team.

Ferrari’s strategy works wonders again

Ferrari were ridiculed about their strategic and operational errors season after season but that’s changed under the leadership of team principal Frederic Vasseur.

Following the red flag for Albon and Ricciardo’s crash, Ferrari elected to put Leclerc on a bold one-stop strategy and the Monegasque driver executed a stunning stint on the medium tyres by doing 25 laps and maintaining a strong pace.

Aside from a small error at Degner 2, which let Perez through, Leclerc drove a magnificent race from eighth on the grid and held onto fourth place from Norris.

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Ferrari team principal Fred Vasseur praised the calmness around the team and referenced the importance of this when looking at recent success.

“On the weekend as a whole, there were plenty of things we could have done better. One thing is the way we prepare the tyres for a qualifying lap,” Leclerc told Sky Sports F1.

“Yesterday I was happy with the lap but I just didn’t have enough grip available and this is mostly coming from the lap before in the right window.

“That put us in a difficult situation for the rest of the weekend because starting P8, you can’t do much more.

“We had amazing tyre management, amazing pace and an amazing strategy. It’s just not enough when you start in P8.”

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Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz was thrilled after picking up yet another podium this season at the Japanese Grand Prix.

As for Sainz, he went long in the second stint on his two-stop race and found himself in the lead. He came out of the pits in seventh place with 16 laps to go but overtook Hamilton, Norris and Leclerc on track to get onto the podium for a third time this year.

Sainz’s latest display will undoubtedly further strengthen his position as the leading free agent for the 2025 grid, but the Spaniard says any upturn in his performance is largely down to Ferrari’s improved car.

“People might think I’m in a better moment driving and everything, but the reality is just in Formula 1, a car is very important,” said Sainz.

“This year, I’m in a very good moment. I’m driving at a high level, but at the same time, having a car that just allows you to go a bit longer, allows you to be a bit closer in dirty air and play around a bit more with strategy, just allows you to shine a bit more.

“And that’s why it’s important in the career of a driver also to be in a [good] car, because last year in the races we looked like we were always going backwards, always defending.

“We were terrible with tyre management and that was difficult to do good races. This year, suddenly three races, two podiums, a lot of overtaking, a win. It’s a completely different picture. It shows that in this sport that is very important too.”

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Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso described the Japanese Grand Prix as one of his best weekends, which saw the Spaniard finish sixth.

Wolff: It’s going to get better from here

Mercedes finished where they started, except Russell was seventh and Hamilton was ninth, a reverse of their grid positions.

Initially, Mercedes were going for a one-stop strategy from the red flag but their lack of pace in the first stint proved costly and both drivers pitted for a second time for the mediums.

On paper, they are in worse positions compared to their fifth and eighth from last year’s Japanese Grand Prix but team principal Toto Wolff insisted there were positives for Mercedes to take away from the weekend.

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Bernie Collins and Damon Hill break down Mercedes’ weekend in Japan as Lewis Hamilton and George Russell both fell short of early expectation.

“We ended up where we started. It was just very difficult. We had a second that was super quick and we would have been racing on the podium but [for] an atrocious first stint,” Wolff told Sky Sports F1.

“We need to find out what it was. Was it too hot? Were we over-managing?

“I think it was the right thing to do at the beginning because it looked pretty stable in terms of lap times. They weren’t pulling away too much, the direct competitors.

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George Russell and Oscar Piastri reflect on their brilliant battle in the final stages of the Japanese Grand Prix.

“I think it’s much better than it looks than the final result and also in qualifying there’s lots we learned. It’s going to get better from here.

“We need to be quick on all circuits. There’s no excuse on temperatures or track layout. We have to sort it out.

“This is live testing for us. We have changed things massively and this is reflected in the result. The car is becoming quicker.”

Contrasting fortunes continue for Tsunoda and Ricciardo

Tsunoda had a great weekend facing the pressure of an expectant home crowd by getting into Q3 and finishing 10th to become the first Japanese driver since Kamui Kobayashi in 2012 to score points at Suzuka.

On the other side of the RB garage, Ricciardo’s poor start to the season took another negative turn as he tangled with Albon on the opening lap and crashed at Turn Three.

With Perez and other contenders – including Tsunoda – for Red Bull’s 2025 seat, a return to the senior squad is looking more and more unlikely for Ricciardo, whose will instead face more speculation over the possibility of Liam Lawson replacing him at RB.

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Daniel Ricciardo believes his collision with Alex Albon was just a ‘racing incident’, while the Williams driver is not optimistic about the state of his chassis.

“Today is [a] singular moment. I don’t look at today and think ‘oh, man this year,’ like… ‘when it rains, it pours,’ or whatever. I feel it was just one of those things,” said Ricciardo.

“We know that 24 races, it’s likely that maybe I’m involved in another lap one incident, there’s just probability [that] these things kind of happen. It obviously sucks when they do. But I don’t look at it any more than today being a kind of singular incident.

“Of course, [it] would have been nice to get a race under our belt and try to show a little bit of something that I felt we were starting to show yesterday.”

Next up is the return of the Chinese Grand Prix on April 19-21, which is also the first Sprint weekend of the season. You can watch every session live on Sky Sports F1 and steam every F1 race and more with a NOW Sports Month Membership – No contract, cancel anytime

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