Given that the 2023 Formula One season is unquestionably Max Verstappen’s, it was only natural that he closed off the constructors’ championship for his Red Bull team with a dominant victory at the Japanese Grand Prix.
Furthermore, he is now the driver’s champion elect, with the title all but secured at Suzuka, with only the formality of completing it in Qatar remaining.
Verstappen dominated from start to finish, making the race nearly a microcosm of the season. He is the terminator, imperturbable, untouchable, and unstoppable, yet still youthful enough to have wisps of teenage-esque facial hair.
He now has 13 wins from 16 Grands Prix and has been a major contributor to Red Bull capturing their sixth title with a record six meetings remaining.
The 25-year-old was joined on the podium by team principal Christian Horner to acknowledge the team championship, which had long been unavoidable but was rightfully celebrated with abandon at one of F1’s best locations. Verstappen’s driver’s title is likely to be delivered under far less impressive conditions.
Verstappen is poised to win his third title at the sprint race in Doha, with teammate Sergio Pérez having another disastrous afternoon and retiring from the race.
He is 177 points ahead of Pérez and has to be 172 points ahead after the sprint to win. Pérez must outscore him in the sprint by six points just to keep the fight going until Sunday, which is a big task.
Verstappen will almost certainly win the title in a meaningless 30-minute rush across the desert, a procession through an almost empty circuit bereft of atmosphere.
Because the sprint format celebrates its victors on the track as they exit from their vehicles, he will almost certainly have won it without even the honor of rising to the podium.
F1 understood this was a risk when it implemented the format, and it was much more so when they scheduled them towards the tail end of the season, decisions they might ponder during the winter.
Verstappen stated this weekend that he is unconcerned about how or where the title is won, simply that it is under his belt as he continues his unstoppable march, epitomized by the run at Suzuka.
After being challenged by McLaren’s Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri at the start, he held his cool and his position wedged between the two rushing papaya cars, kept his nose in front as they swooped into the esses, and that was the end of it.
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Clean air beckoned, and with it an ever-widening gap, with the McLarens putting everything they had at him but still falling short. The distance to Norris, who was second, was 19.4 seconds at the finish.
Piastri finished third, a fantastic accomplishment for a rookie collecting his first podium on a difficult circuit he had never raced on before. The Australian has undeniable talent.
After those opening seconds, Verstappen’s race was never in doubt, and while Pérez again collided with other cars, sustaining damage and a series of penalties before retiring, it was the world champion who brought home the points Red Bull required.
Their title is their second in a row and their sixth since its formation in 2005. This season, their RB19 has been completely dominant, winning 15 of 16 races and only being beaten once by Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz in the final round in Singapore. Horner, who was visibly happy with his team’s accomplishment, commended their efforts.
“This sixth constructors’ championship is beyond our wildest dreams, coming into the season I don’t think we could have dreamed of having a season like this,” he said.
“It’s unbelievable. Last year was a very strong year for us but to have kept that momentum rolling with the challenges we have had is a testimony to all the men and women of the team that have worked tirelessly to have produced a car as competitive as we have had and that Max has made such good use of.”
Verstappen has led their push, and if Pérez had been closer to his partner on more times, they could have finished it off even sooner.
“Max is absolutely at the top of the game, he is the best driver in F1 at this point in time,” Horner said. “He has this inner hunger and determination and huge ability but he channels it and he does not get distracted by some of the trappings of F1, he is an out-and-out racer.”
The rest of the grid has a long way to go to match Red Bull, and it is to be hoped that they do, but this was a title that the team truly deserved.
They have not only had a powerful car, but they have also been nearly perfect operationally, calling races with pinpoint accuracy and establishing the standard for top-level performance.
The first title is finished, and the second is on its way. Red Bull and Verstappen leave Japan with their season nearly finished, the sport’s dominant power enjoying their prizes but certainly looking ahead.
Charles Leclerc of Ferrari finished fourth, with Lewis Hamilton and George Russell of Mercedes finishing fifth and seventh. Sainz finished sixth for Ferrari, Alonso eighth for Aston Martin, and Ocon and Gasly ninth and tenth for Alpine.