Verstappen canters to clinch Red Bull’s title – with no help from Perez

Formula 1

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As any Dark Souls player can tell you, even if the mightiest foe eventually falls, there’s always a chance it will immediately rise back up stronger and more formidable than ever before.

After the unstoppable Red Bull were eventually humbled on a starry Singapore Sunday, they were determined to strike back strong at Suzuka. Not just to remind the motorsport world that they remain the final boss of Formula 1, but because if they were to seal their sixth constructors’ championship at the home circuit of Japanese power unit designers Honda, only a win would do.

At the helm of this juggernaut, as he had been all season, was world champion-elect Max Verstappen. In Saturday’s qualifying session, Verstappen issued the strongest possible statement of intent by producing a scarcely believable 1’28.8 – with none of his competition able to breach under a 1’29.4.

But while Verstappen was out of sight out front, his team mate Sergio Perez had been seven-tenths of a second slower than him at the end of Q3 – a delay long enough for McLaren drivers Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris, plus the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc, to relegate the second RB19 to fifth place.

Suzuka, 2023
Poll: Vote for your 2023 Japanese Grand Prix Driver of the Weekend
Having trudged through the mire of their early season, McLaren were looking to validate their latest round of upgrades from Singapore in the best way possible – with their first race victory for two years. Stalking directly behind the championship leader on the grid for the second time in 2023, both Piastri and Norris were itching to beat Verstappen off the line and into turn one, just as Norris did at Silverstone. Should they fail, both drivers knew Verstappen would likely punish them for it over the remaining 52 laps. When told before the race that most of the paddock expected him to run away from the field and win by half a minute, Verstappen simply responded “that’s the plan.”

So the lights went out and the 20 drivers started the long, downhill dash to the first corner. McLaren could have been forgiven for thinking, just for a second, that they could have a chance at Verstappen as both Piastri and Norris flanked the Red Bull menacingly as turn one approached the three of them.

Piastri chose not to force the issue to the inside and lifted, but Norris had no such plans. As the McLaren edged ahead around the outside, Norris held his car as tight as he could to the Red Bull, but Verstappen had the better position for the second apex and reclaimed his lead through the right-hander.

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As Verstappen fended off the McLarens, the second Red Bull was being swamped. Perez was being passed by both Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jnr in the other Ferrari, with Lewis Hamilton sniffing around his outside at the same. With all four side-by-side, a pinch was inevitable. Perez held his car as straight as he could, but his front wheels were clipped by Leclerc and Hamilton. Somehow the quartet did not trigger a major crash and all four successfully navigated the corner, but Perez had lost a large chunk of his front wing.

Further back, a similar story played out when Esteban Ocon drifted into Valtteri Bottas to his left, who bounced Alexander Albon’s Williams into the air as a result. Again, only the grace of the racing gods prevented a more terrifying outcome and all 20 cars survived to make their way through Suzuka’s famous Esses for the first time. But with the braking zone for turn one now a carbon fibre graveyard, the Safety Car was deployed by race control.

Albon, Bottas, Ocon and Zhou Guanyu all pitted for repairs, but Perez remained out. However, Red Bull did not like what they saw on the data and called him in at the end of the second lap for a new front wing. While Perez obeyed, his urgency to minimise his time loss meant he cut the Safety Car line before sixth placed Fernando Alonso ahead – an infraction that would earn him a five second time penalty as a result.

George Russell, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Suzuka, 2023
The Mercedes pair raced each other hard
When the race restarted on lap five, Verstappen’s journey to turn one was much less stressful. It was a matter of a few corners before Norris was a full second behind him, with Piastri equidistant to him in third, followed by the Ferraris of Leclerc and Sainz. The Mercedes of Hamilton and George Russell were behind Alonso in seventh and eighth, but the pair appeared more concerned with attacking each other rather than the Aston Martin. Russell cheekily dived to the inside of his team mate into the final chicane to move ahead, only for Hamilton to repay Russell for this insolence by sweeping back around the outside into turn one.

All eight leaders had started the race on medium compound tyres, aside from Alonso in sixth, but his soft tyres did not appear to be helping him catch the Ferraris ahead. Meanwhile, Perez had been fitted with hard tyres at his stop and was sitting down in 17th place with plenty of progress to make. He picked off Zhou into the chicane on lap seven, but then got caught behind Ocon’s Alpine, who was swarming over Kevin Magnussen’s Haas ahead.

Ocon swept around the outside of Magnussen into turn one at the start of lap 11, dropping the Haas driver into the clutches of the Red Bull. Perez had a half-hearted look at Magnussen at the hairpin on lap 11, before being informed by race engineer Hugh Bird of his penalty. Perhaps this additional pressure led him to convince himself that there was any possibility to draw alongside the Haas at the hairpin on lap 12, as he dove in with an unwise degree of optimism, bashing into Magnussen’s left-rear at the apex and spinning him through 180 degrees.

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“Fuck… I have front wing damage again,” Perez confessed on his radio, running off-track at the Spoon curve as if to prove his point.

Sergio Perez, Kevin Magnussen, Suzuka, 2023
Magnussen fell victim to a lunge by Perez
Magnussen, unsurprisingly, offered a largely negative review of Perez’s move. “Fucking loser, man,” he vented as he righted his car and continued, now down in 17th. Both pitted at the end of the lap, with Perez emerging with his third front wing over the first 70 kilometres of the race.

As leader, Verstappen was one of the first cars through the hairpin and immediately reported debris on the circuit. Sniffing some kind of race control intervention, McLaren called Piastri into the pits at the end of the lap to switch onto hard tyres. As he was being serviced, the Virtual Safety Car was deployed, and the McLaren driver emerged between the Alpines in ninth.

Perez had also returned to the track but was suffering from the multiple clashes he’d suffered. Now in second, Norris arrived behind the second Red Bull respecting his VSC delta, but was forbidden by rule to pass the off-the-pace Perez.

“I need to know if I can pass him,” Norris asked engineer Will Joseph. “I’m five seconds down, he’s holding me up now.”

Norris tried to overtake as the VSC was ending around the outside of the Spoon curve, but was pushed out onto the kerb by Perez who appeared unaware of the McLaren behind him. Seconds later, the race resumed, but what was once a five second gap to Verstappen had almost doubled to nine seconds.

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“I was shouting in my helmet,” Norris admitted after the race. “I was swearing quite a bit. I was so confused, I didn’t know what I could do. The Ferrari guys were, I think, 1.4 seconds behind me after being I think 12s or 13s, so I lost 10 seconds.”

Lando Norris, McLaren, Suzuka, 2023
Time lost behind Perez meant Norris had to pass Piastri
The obstruction also left Norris vulnerable to his team mate. Verstappen came in for a second set of mediums at the end of lap 16 rejoining a handful of seconds ahead of Piastri. But when Norris came in the next time by for hard tyres, he was seventh – a full eight seconds behind his team mate who he had been leading since the start of the race. Perez pulled into the garage to presumably end his race – only for the stewards to award him another five-second time penalty for his careless lunge.

Sainz inherited the lead for a lap before pitting, leaving Russell to take first position. The Mercedes driver had been set an ambitious target of extending his mediums to run a one-stop strategy after fighting against team mate Hamilton for much of the early laps. When Verstappen appeared behind him, Russell was instructed simply to let the Red Bull through and save his tyres, allowing Verstappen to regain the lead on the 20th tour.

On tyres one grade softer than the McLarens, Verstappen was naturally faster than Piastri and Norris. But Norris quickly ate up the deficit to his team mate, setting a new fastest lap of the race in the process. Eventually, Norris was sitting under a second of his sister car, who had now caught Russell’s Mercedes.

“The longer I spend behind now, the worse you’re going to make the race for me,” Norris told his team, his implication clear.

After Russell eventually stopped for hard tyres, McLaren gave Piastri instructions to move out of the way of his team mate. He did so at the start of lap 27th, leaving Norris 12 seconds behind the race leading Red Bull. But rather than chasing the leader, McLaren were more concerned with Russell’s one-stop strategy. All three leading drivers were intending to make a second stop as tyre wear had been particularly severe throughout the weekend in the heat, but it was clear that Russell would have to be passed on-track by both the McLaren drivers before the end of the race.

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Third-placed Piastri was the first in on lap 35, dropping down to fifth, still ahead of Leclerc’s Ferrari. Norris followed suit on the next lap, rejoining five seconds clear of his team mate, with the race leader finally fitting hard tyres at the end of lap 37. Norris cruised up to Russell and chose to make life easy for himself, lifting off while in the Mercedes’ slipstream on the run to the 130R so he could make his move down the pit straight with DRS instead. Norris was soon through the Mercedes and then returned into second with Sainz being the last driver to pit.

One-stopping Russell was preyed upon by rivals
Sainz would have been the last driver to pit, except that over 40 minutes after pulling in to retire from the grand prix, Perez emerged from the pit lane once again to complete one of the longest pit stops in Formula 1 history. After covering a lap, Perez pitted, served his five-second time penalty and was released for another final tour, before perhaps his most humiliating race in a Red Bull eventually came to a complete end, but at least with no further risk of penalties affecting him at the following round in Qatar.

Meanwhile, Verstappen showed just how in control he was by using his fresh hard tyres to post a 1’34.183, easily the fastest lap of the race. By comparison, Norris improved on his own personal best lap but was over a second slower.

Norris was at least quick enough to have built a nine-second gap over Russell, who was now under intense pressure from Piastri. Eyeing a first career podium, the rookie used DRS along the main straight to pull alongside the Mercedes to the outside of turn one before sweeping by and up into third. With 12 laps remaining, the podium now seemed set but Russell was working hard to reach the end of the race as far up the order as he could having committed to his one-stop.

But it proved a losing battle. Just three laps after Piastri passed Russell, Leclerc charged around the outside of turn one to relieve him of fourth. Soon Hamilton and Sainz were cruising up behind him and with just five laps remaining Mercedes instructed Russell to swap positions. But after Hamilton had rudely rebuffed Russell’s advances at the Spoon curve earlier in the race, Russell was not in a generous mood.

“He’s got new tyres, he should be able to overtake,” Russell insisted, before eventually relenting and blending out of the throttle at the end of the pit straight to allow Hamilton through into the first corner. But now Sainz was immediately behind him and Russell wanted the support of his team mate to keep it that way.

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“Right, tell him to stay there and give me DRS to stay safe from Sainz,” Russell insisted. “If you want to play the team game. He pushed me off the track earlier, it’s the least he can do.”

Hamilton tried to help Russell repel Sainz
Hamilton was ordered to lift off and keep Russell within a second of him to enable Russell to keep DRS, which he ultimately obeyed, but by the time they reached the sole DRS zone on the main straight Sainz was so close to the rear of the Russell that having the rear wing flap available made little difference. Sainz took the inside and demoted Russell to seventh, a valiant effort by the Mercedes driver which had ultimately not been rewarded.

But yet again all this fighting had been over positions outside of podium contention. Verstappen, as he so often had been in 2023, was in total control of the race and was simply ticking off the remaining laps, crossing over 700 laps led for the season as he did so. This would be more than just another victory, however. It would be one that reaffirmed his and Red Bull’s supremacy after their record win streaks had ended just one week prior.

When Verstappen crossed the line, he not only secured his 13th win of the season, but secured the constructors’ championship for Red Bull. Perhaps fittingly – as Verstappen has almost 100 more points to his name than his team’s closest rivals Mercedes – it was achieved by another dominant performance from their soon-to-be three-times champion and with zero contribution from their second driver.

“It was a good race,” Verstappen mused afterwards. “I could really look after the tyres well, the degradation was quite in control. Honestly, no real issues throughout the race, and I think that just sums up the weekend as well. It’s been an incredible weekend to drive the car.”

Norris was 20 seconds back at the finish. Although he admitted that he had expected the gap to be greater by the end.

“I was expecting him to probably lap us two or three times,” Norris joked after the race. “I was expecting probably a bigger gap. I think we all were, as a team.

“I think it would have been a lot closer, I lost eight or 10 seconds behind Perez under the VSC. I don’t know how hard Max was really pushing. Another podium for us. Great result.”

Piastri joined a rare group of drivers in F1’s history to achieve a podium result in their rookie season in the world championship. But despite securing his first rostrum appearance, he admitted some disappointment at his deficit to Norris at the flag.

Leclerc finished fourth – likely the best result Ferrari could have expected – with Hamilton beating Sainz home in sixth ahead of Russell. Alonso took eighth after a lonely race, with the final two points places taken by the Alpines. A seething Pierre Gasly took the final point after being told to hand ninth to his team mate on the last lap, and eventually complying at the exit of the chicane.

Red Bull, Suzuka, 2023
Red Bull celebrated their sixth constructors’ championship
But with six rounds still remaining on the 22-round calendar, one of the two world championship titles had already been claimed before the sun had even set on September. The scene of so many title triumphs, including his own last season, Suzuka had seen another coronation to add to its long history. And Verstappen was more than happy for his team to receive some well-deserved plaudits for it.

“The car has been more dominant this year, apart from Singapore – but all the races we’ve had a really, really good car,” said the race winner.

“It’s just an incredible season for everyone involved within the team. I’m just very proud to be a part of it but also very proud to be working with all of these amazing people here at the track but also especially back at the factory as well.”

Now, with his team’s title secured, Verstappen can head to Qatar knowing that he will likely leave as Formula 1’s 11th three-times world champion.

Author information

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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39 comments on “Verstappen canters to clinch Red Bull’s title – with no help from Perez”

  1. Expecting Max to be a 5 times world champion before the next reg change. Rbr always favouring 1 driver, Goat Newey having the jump on all the teams reference ground effects and them (Rbr) being peerless in all other areas makes them close to impossible to beat. It’s not even close. Perez has been horrible this season and is still 2nd and could still dnf at least once and keep 2nd. They fully deserve this constructors championship and driver championship no one has been better.

    The reg changes did a good job of closing up the field but someone was always going to benefit from it more than anyone else, as has been seen in previous years. One day there will be a reg change that stumps everyone and in that year there will be an interesting F1 season.

    1. Just like Redbull was ‘supposed’ to win every race this season. Long term predictions are always funny in an ever changing sport.

      We’ve seen how far McLaren have come this year. I won’t predict anything but I suspect we’ll see a different order next season.

      1. Most people predicted that there would be one or two races where something went disastrously wrong for RBR. It was always going to be difficult to win every single race, though it was more likely for them to do it this season than it has been for any other team in the history of the sport. The combination of a fantastic driver, a dominant car, and better reliability than we’ve ever seen made a serious, if unlikely, possibility.

  2. Thanks to the headline, my earworm for today is that classic Beatles song “I get by with no help from Perez”.

    1. This is just fantastic

  3. No help from Perez? Perez is 2nd in the World Driver’s Championship…

    1. Yep. Red Bull continuing to treat their number 2’s like number 2’s….

      1. I didn’t know WillWood was affiliated with Red Bull :p

        1. Many articles here come across with so much personal preference that it’s hard to tell sometimes.

          1. Particularly, the headline choices…

    2. Yes, and he scored zero points to the total this race so Verstappen is the one who got them over the line this race, which is what the title refers to.

      Of course, Max’s point tally alone is currently enough to be #1 in the WCC, but that’s another discussion entirely.

    3. I guess Will refers to this race only, meaning Max clinched the championship by scoring the necessary points by winning.

    4. He’s not going to be for much longer by the abysmal way he performs in the fastest car by far.

    5. No disrespect to Perez, but he’s only there – barely – because the car is far superior than the others. The car put him there. This race was another embarrassing one from him where he tries too hard.

  4. Remove Perez from all 2023 results and Red Bull would not have the championship in Japan.
    1st Red Bull: 416 points
    2nd Mercedes: 347 points
    3rd Ferrari: 327 points
    4th Aston Martin: 262 points
    5th McLaren: 193 points

    At the same time Max would be champion in Japan having scored 416 points (16 more than now).
    1st Max: 416 points
    2nd Lewis: 212 points
    3rd Alonso: 199 points
    4th Carlos: 173 points
    5th Charles: 154 points

    Logan Sergeant would have scored 1 point at the British race where he finished 11th so 10th without Perez.

    1. More interesting (more effect) is if you remove Max from all 2023 results – both championships would still be open.

      Team ranking:
      1st Mercedes: 383 points
      2nd Ferrari: 349 points
      3rd Aston Martin: 292 points
      4th Red Bull: 275 points
      5th McLaren: 229 points

      Driver ranking:
      1st Sergio: 275 points
      2nd Lewis: 238 points
      3rd Alonso: 226 points
      4th Carlos: 180 points
      5th Charles: 169 points

      1. Well, if you removed him, every race would have a different outcome, completely unpredictable. This is way too hypothetical. Perez would either be a bit better (less pressure) or worse (less data, no better driver to copy), besides, they would hire someone else (probably better than Perez, Norris perhaps?). I know what you’re going for, but it’s still too simplistic to tell a story. Even if Verstappen wasn’t replaced by someone else and everything remains similar, this would put much more pressure on those drivers who are usually a couple of spots behind him (they would be fighting for wins all of a sudden), so there would be harsher duels, much more pressure on each of them etc. One thing is certain – nobody would be talking about a dominant RB car, because it wouldn’t be.

        1. You’re forgetting that without the pressure to beat verstappen, let’s put stroll in red bull as team mate, for example, perez would perform like early season, so it WOULD still be a dominant car and he’d score more points and qualify better than he did.

    2. Interesting that Max would be already WDC without “help” from Checo, who has taken mire points from him than from the rival teams

    3. I’m still surprised Max hasn’t wrapped it up before October, even with these long seasons.

      Without wishing Ill on anyone, imagine if he broke his leg a la Schumacher this weekend skateboarding or whatever?

      Then it’d be interesting to see how Checo reacted. Imagine if he threw it away? With the way he’s been driving lately I wouldn’t be surprised.

      1. Perez would need to score maximum points in all 6 races to come.

        Even if Max steps away now the title is secure.

      2. Checo can’t have every race win, sprint race win and fastest lap from now till the end. Verstappen only needs 3 more points and Perez can’t even lose a race (7 pts deficit).

      3. Of course he would lose it. Checo would need to get 178 of the 180 points left. That means winning every race and on top of that get almost all the points from the sprints and flaps. For example, get 5 or the 6 flaps and win 2 of the sprints and be 2nd in the other. Not even Max in his almost godly present state of form is likely to score that much.

  5. “No Help from Perez” LMAOOOOOO 🤣🤣🤣

    1. @krichelle I think it was implied “at Suzuka”, not all season.

  6. Andy (@andyfromsandy)
    25th September 2023, 15:53

    Where is the outrage on Perez?

    In 2020 Valtteri came 2nd to Lewis but after just about every race the commentators on forums were calling for him to be replaced.

    1. There’s loads of it, just read below the line on any article on this site that even mentions Perez.

      But it happens to every driver who is unfortunate enough to be paired with someone who is dominating the sport at that particular time. Bottas came in for the same type of criticism; so too did Webber, Barrichello and even Fisichella before him. If there had been social media in 1992 no doubt people would have been using it to call for Riccardo Patrese’s head (other than James Hunt ofc).

      I think it’s notable that in all cases those guys had long-ish careers in the midfield where they were relatively highly regarded as potential future champions, only to be thoroughly outclassed once they got their break in a top team. Obviously Perez is following the same path.

    2. I remember, bottas’ 2020 season was indeed terrible and he almost got beaten by verstappen with a very dominant mercedes, but like red andy said, perez is drawing a lot of criticism too atm.

  7. Perez looks worse than he is. Actually every driver will next to Verstappen. Maybe some supposed elite drivers will finish 50 points to 100 points behind but at this form and in that car no one is going to come out without damaging their reputation.

    1. I agree that Max is a fast driver, but your idea that he could finish 50 to 100 points ahead of anyone else in the sister Red Bull doesn’t have any substance, unless you are saying that they would always have to defer to Max in close races.

  8. What are the chances that Perez decides to retire from F1 after this season?

  9. I don’t like him at all, Calling drivers mongoloids etc… The little bastard gets away with murder. Red Bull are massive fucking hypocrites too.

    What’s the difference between Verstappen using the word “mongoloid” in a negative fashion and their other driver using the N word? They immediately got rid of the other driver. They should get rid of that Bond villain Helmut Market too while they’re at it, bunch of hypocrites.

  10. Everytime that prick raced against Kimi Raikkonen he crashed into him, that says a lot to me.

  11. He doesn’t know how to race fair!

  12. What a xenophobic comment. And I don’t say that lightly.

  13. Well, In India, Max has quite good fan following.
    I am a Max fan. For me it is Max > Alonso > Ham > others at the moment. Max has made 0 mistakes this season in the last 16 races. Alonso has made 1. Ham has made multiple ( including a couple yesterday )

  14. @jimgogo
    Are you okay? Do we need to call someone?

  15. Seek mental therapy.

  16. I’m British, and I support Verstappen (and Norris, Piastri, Albon and Lawson).
    I do hope that you’re not British @jimgogo, as you’re coming acrosss as the worst sort of person my nation produces.

Comments are closed.