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Verstappen's Suzuka win secures sixth constructors' title for Red Bull


Heading into the weekend, Lewis Hamilton said that unless the RB was "phenomenal" he would be suspicious that the recent technical directive from the FIA had impacted the Austrian team.

Yesterday he got his answer, for that lap, as far as Max Verstappen and the RB19 was concerned, was just that, phenomenal.

Leaving poor old Oscar Piastri - who is no slouch himself - 0.581s in his wake, Verstappen sent the message loud and clear... Singapore was a one-off.

Consequently, heading into today's Grand Prix the opposition has only two hopes, strategy or reliability.

Of course, with the Red Bull pair having completed all but 2 (count 'em, two) of this year's racing laps, reliability appears to be out of the question, which leaves strategy as the only alternative.

On that score Pirelli is as much in the dark as the rest of us, unclear whether today will be a one, two or even three stopper.

Tyre degradation has been high all weekend, much higher than usual, hence the confusion.

A two-stopper is likely to be the most popular option, especially as temperatures are much the same as Saturday. However, it will be interesting to see what combinations of compounds will be chosen, given that all three of them have shown themselves capable of playing a part.

The hard is probably the favourite, with eight drivers having saved the two sets of C1 supplied, while the other twelve have one new set. Furthermore, the soft, which has shown the greatest signs of thermal degradation, could be useful for the first stint for those looking to make up places at the start, or also towards the end of the race, when with less fuel on board, a driver could try and exploit the performance difference compared to those who might possibly be running a slower and more used compound.

McLaren's best hope of getting one over Red Bull and Verstappen will come at the start, and with Perez starting from fifth the Dutchman will have to be on guard from the outset as Piastri and his teammate will be all over him.

Both Ferraris and Mercedes are in the leading pack but neither looks suited to this track - unlike Singapore - and are therefore likely to be battling for points rather than podium positions.

Indeed, a number of teams have struggled here, and even Alex Albon has admitted that his chances would be better if it was "ten degrees cooler".

Talking of Williams, following his crash in Q1, Logan Sargeant has a whole new chassis and will consequently start from the pitlane. To add to his pain the American has a 10s time penalty for making changes to the car under parc ferme condiotons.

While Aston Martin's slump continues, Tsunoda should be worth a watch today, as should AlphaTauri teammate Liam Lawson, while our money is on Albon and the Alpines to battle for the last of the points.

We are not expecting a thriller like Singapore, but the sheer nature of the Suzuka track, not to mention those crazy fans, always makes this even a little special.

As the pitlane opens the air temperature is 28 degrees C and the track temperature 47 degrees, around the same temperatures witnessed in FP3, which should add to the degradation and strategy conundrum. It is bright and sunny and, as on previous days, it is pretty windy. There is 0% chance of rain.

Verstappen is already waiting at the end of the pitlane, the Dutchman clearly very keen to get on with it.

All are starting on the mediums bar Tsunoda, Alonso, Lawson, Bottas, Stroll, Hulkenberg and Zhou who are softs. Tsunoda and Alonso both on used tyres, fresh rubber for the rest.

They head off on the formation lap, once again Verstappen is clearly eager to get on with it.

Indeed, he is warned that the rest of the field is taking its time and should therefore ease off.

The grid forms.

They're away! Verstappen moves to his right to cover Piastri before moving back across the track to fend off the other McLaren. Norris is alongside the Red Bull in Turn 1 but Verstappen edges ahead.

However, off the line the two Ferraris were side by side with Perez and as the Mexican moved to his left he hit Hamilton (twice) causing him to go on to the grass.

"I've been hit by Perez," says the Mercedes driver.

As the two AlphaTauris battle, replay reveals another incident in which a number of drivers sustained damage. Indeed, the Safety Car is deployed following the clash involving Bottas and Ocon, while Zhou also has damage. All three pit, as do Perez and Albon.

"I've got a puncture," reports Bottas who has also incurred front wing damage.

Behind the Perez/Hamilton incident, Bottas hit Albon on the run to Turn 1 after being forced wide by Ocon, while Zhou appeared to run over the resultant debris, which in turn led to the decision to deploy the Safety Car.

Adding to his misery, it's a bad stop for Bottas.

Behind the Safety Cat it's: Verstappen, Norris, Piastri, Leclerc, Sainz, Alonso, Perez, Hamilton, Russell and Lawson.

Ocon has rejoined in 15th, ahead of Zhou, Albon, Perez, Sargeant and Bottas.

The Safety Car is withdrawn at the end of Lap 4, as Perez is noted for a Safety Car infringement.

Verstappen leads the pack into the chicane... before going for it. Alonso is all over Sainz.

Bottas' day goes from bad to worse as he spins at the Hairpin. "What the ****," he cries as replay suggests contact with Sargeant who subsequently pits.

Russell makes a move on his teammate at the chicane, they appear to touch as the youngster gets ahead. However, Hamilton fights back and retakes the position on the subsequent straight as Lawson closes in.

Bottas pits and following a close inspection of the front of the car he continues.

Perez passes Zhou for 16th.

Out front, Verstappen leads Norris by 2.5s with Piastri a further 2.8s behind.

The Perez incident involving the Safety Car is under investigation as is the Bottas/Sargeant clash.

Sargeant gets a 5s penalty as Bottas finally calls it a day.

Perez is given a 5s time penalty for his Safety Car infringement.

Tsunoda pits at the end of Lap 9, rejoining in 17th.

"It's literally undriveable," says Albon, "but whatever we need to do, just sacrifice my race, whatever we need to do."

Lawson pits at the end of Lap 10, rejoining in 16th, behind his teammate, as Zhou also stops.

Norris is already being told to manage his tyres as he falls 4.2s behind the leader.

Alonso pits at the end of Lap 11, avoiding a potential undercut from Hamilton.

"Deg is as expected," Sainz is told, "we are looking at Plan A and B."

Meanwhile Magnussen spins at the Hairpin following a late move by Perez. "I have front wing damage again," reports the Mexican, another driver having a nightmare afternoon.

Perez and Magnussen both pit as the incident is noted.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Suzuka here.


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