Mighty Max, McLaren momentum, Perez pain: Japanese GP talking points
Runaway championship leader Max Verstappen got back on track in Suzuka, where Red Bull clinched the constructors' championship.
AFP Sport looks at three talking points from the Japanese Grand Prix:
- Verstappen back on top -
Max Verstappen arrived in Suzuka with the hint of a question mark hanging over him after a fifth-place finish at the previous week's Singapore Grand Prix.
His response was to blow the doubters clean out of the water with a performance that proved he is truly in a class of his own.
Verstappen made a statement of intent by finishing fastest in all three practice sessions, then laid down a qualifying lap for the ages to take pole for Sunday's race.
The result was never in doubt once he had beaten McLaren pair Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri to the first corner, and his final race time was almost 20 seconds faster than nearest rival Norris.
Verstappen will be the red-hot favourite to clinch his third straight championship at next month's Qatar Grand Prix, and he might not even have to wait for the race itself if he gets the job done in the Saturday sprint.
Ominously for his rivals, he said he had "no real issues" on his way to victory in Japan.
"I think that just sums up the weekend," he said.
"It's just been an incredible weekend to drive the car."
- McLaren on the up -
McLaren have been building a head of steam since the summer and they got their reward in Japan with both drivers on the podium.
Lando Norris finished second for the fourth time this season -- and the second grand prix running -- while rookie teammate Oscar Piastri got on the podium for the first time in his career.
Piastri had come close before, missing out at the British Grand Prix only because of a safety car deployment.
Norris said McLaren's Japanese success was "our most deserved in terms of we're there on pure pace".
He also thinks they can "definitely" chase down fourth-placed Aston Martin in the constructors' championship, with six races remaining.
"I think our advantage at the minute compared to almost every team bar a couple is that we have two drivers fighting for those positions and fighting for those points," said Norris.
"Not every team has that at the minute."
- Perez problems -
Max Verstappen's breathtaking performance in Japan must have given teammate Sergio Perez cause for concern, even if it did clinch the constructors' championship for Red Bull.
The Mexican endured another torrid weekend, qualifying in fifth and then retiring from the race in the same Red Bull "rocket ship" as Verstappen.
Perez has not managed to add to the two wins he picked up in the first four races of the season, and is a whopping 177 points behind Verstappen in the title race.
Team chief Christian Horner pointed out that Perez is still second in the driver's standings and has finished second four times this season.
But failing to finish the race in Japan was hardly a fitting way to celebrate Red Bull's constructors' win, reinforcing the feeling that they are something of a one-man team.
"My race ended up not being straightforward at all," said Perez.
"We had a poor start and everything went downhill from there, unfortunately."
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