Suzuka, 2023

Verstappen “lucky” to resist first-lap attack from Norris and Piastri

Formula 1

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Japanese Grand Prix winner Max Verstappen admitted he was “lucky” to hold onto the lead at the start of the race after coming under pressure from both McLaren drivers.

Verstappen started from pole position and lead from the opening lap of the race. However, he came under attack from both McLarens of Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris on the run to turn one.

Second-placed Piastri, who started from the right-hand side of the grid, pulled alongside Verstappen on the inside approaching the first corner. At the same time, Norris made a rapid getaway from third on the grid and looked to the outside of the Red Bull, nosing ahead through turn one, but was eventually rebuffed into turn two.

Verstappen explained how he felt the pressure from both McLarens on the run down to the first corner.

“I saw in the right mirror that Oscar had a little bit of a jump on me, but at the same time I saw in my left mirror that Lando had a real jump on me,” Verstappen said.

“I tried to close off Oscar, but then he was still there. Then I saw on the left side Lando coming with a lot more speed. He then moved a bit to the right and I was like, ‘I can’t go more to the right’.

“So I was trying to get straight. Luckily, of course, nothing happened. It all got quite close, but that’s racing – that’s how it goes at the start.”

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Norris said he “actually got into the lead for maybe half a second” before dropping back. Verstappen found better grip than his rival on the inside of the next corner.

“We had a good battle also into turn one, into two,” he said. “I was lucky – I think there was a bit more grip in turn two, just on the normal line instead of trying to go around the outside.”

Piastri, who lost out to his team mate at the start, admitted he decided to play it safe into turn one, rather than try to force a pass a potentially dangerous pass for the lead.

“Looking back on it now, I was in the perfect position to emulate Senna and Prost…” Piastri joked.

“I saw I got a good launch. I got a bit too excited on the throttle pedal in the second part of the start. At that point I knew I wasn’t far enough alongside Max. I could see Lando was coming around the outside, so I think settling for third was definitely just the safest option at that point.”

The trio ultimately finished the race in the order that they exited turn two on the opening lap. Norris following winner Verstappen home with team mate Piastri claiming his first career podium in third.

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2023 Japanese Grand Prix

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Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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12 comments on “Verstappen “lucky” to resist first-lap attack from Norris and Piastri”

  1. Not quite how Verstappen tells it… He moved right to fend off Piastri, who backs out, then turned left towards Norris who twitches even further left rather than maintaining position, allowing Max the best line into the corner effectively. Both McLaren’s backed out of disputing the corner despite better starts. Probably sound but I doubt Max would have done the same, not as early anyway.

    1. Lewis till I die
      24th September 2023, 19:07

      Max forced Piastri tight offering him the move over or crash alternative…
      Then threatened Lando with a similar maybe dangerous move….
      There needs to be more decisive judgement on this as Max can do no wrong by the FIA or Red Bull,forcing every other driver to relent !!! It’s become a joke 😟

      1. Verstappen left well over a cars width to both Piastri and Norris. No foul there.

      2. I did think myself that Max’s defence was borderline/was dangerous, from the photo used in this article you can see Piastri with a wheel almost on the grass and was doing all the work to avoid a crash. If I was him I would of took one for the team and held my line resulting in the team getting a win this season with Lando.

      3. The question is what happens if Norris keeps his line. There was room for Verstappen on track, just not where he wanted to be: that was where Norris was. So Verstappen’s drift leftwards was a claim for that line – which Norris duly vacated. The problem is that the lines rapidly converge and you’d have all three arriving at the corner together. But I felt Norris ceded to readily.

      4. Strange view… defending during a start is normal practice. Looking at your “name”, there are a lot of Lewis start where he cut the line of the attacker. It’s normal, but probably your new to F1.
        There was nothing wrong. Norris was in the best position and could have tried to pass Verstappen. By doing so riskung his race and certainly his position. Just to be passed at a few drs laps later.
        Intelligent decision by Lando

        1. Hmm, not so sure about defending till the other driver has half a wheel on the grass as there side by side with you.Closing the door is ok but Max was very borderline there, but what has happened now is that Max knows that they will jump out the way in future, personally I would of not done that as you need to let other drivers know that your no push over.

        2. I agree, Rando Nollis was right to give up as readily as he did, for the simple reason that the RB car has had fantastic race pace all year and why risk damage to your car when you don’t have a defence against the rocket coming past you one lap later, or even on the same lap.
          I think he showed great maturity with his decision to bail out, but not too far as he wanted to keep 2nd place. Same for Oscar really, even he admitted that a vision of a wrecked car wasn’t what the team would have wanted, so good for him too.

  2. I doubt Max would have done the same,

    True, and the radio call to GP would have been “he just ran into me”

  3. I’m starting to think Norris doesn’t want to win races. Of course he wasn’t winning this one, but why the hell did he backed off so much for Max to have the ideal inside line for turn 1? He was already there, Max left that space for grabs when he squeezed Piastri, and Norris gifted it back to him.

    Just like in Singapore where Sainz used him as a shield and he not even once tried to attack and win it for himself, they’re not even teammates, it looks like the opportunities have to be crystal clear for him to act on it.

    1. Lando is an intelligent driver. Wel knowing that fighting for the lead only compromises his result for now.
      Max is still in a league of his own. And only when the mcl is fast enough to keep max behind it makes sense to fight for the first position.
      Not at this moment. The same in Singapore. Lando knew using the Sainz tow would keep his position. Fight with Sainz would have resulted in en Mercedes win

  4. I thought it was pretty lame for Lando to move out of Max’s way so tamely, but on the other hand I can also understand it. Obviously if it was Lewis vs Max 2021 then that would absolutely not have happened. But McLaren were no doubt just targetting a double podium when the race started, not to actually win the race. So in the moment Lando was probably thinking to himself “ok I can maybe get ahead of him, but there’s a good chance we crash if I try so may as well just hold position and stay second instead”. It’s mostly just a reflection of how all the teams realise they are miles behind the Max + RB combo and none of them feel like they are actually racing him, Singapore being an exception of course.

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