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JAPANESE GP: VERSTAPPEN BACK ON TOP, SOLID FERRARI



The Red Bull team's response was swift. Following a tumultuous exit from the Australian Grand Prix, the outfit led by Christian Horner displayed remarkable unity, not only reclaiming the path to victory but also achieving a rare double. Despite a shaky start, with Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez voicing criticisms about the unsatisfactory race pace evident since the free practices, the relentless work in the Red Bull garage bore fruit. As attested by the Dutch and Mexican drivers after the race, the RB20 showed a marked improvement in terms of handling with fuel load and tire management. It seems that internal controversies within the Red Bull team didn't dent the concentration of the technical staff, management, and drivers. As the saying goes, let the facts speak for themselves...


Verstappen demonstrated flawless performance, both in the two starts (the first one promptly interrupted by the red flag due to the incident between Alexander Albon and Daniel Ricciardo) and throughout the 53 laps of the race. No mistakes, no uncertainties. This marked his third victory in four races at the start of the season. Perez also delivered a noteworthy performance, securing an excellent second place for the third time after the setback in Melbourne, where he finished fifth. On a highly technical track like Suzuka, Perez displayed mental resilience from the free practices, qualifying just 6 hundredths of a second behind Verstappen. This sends a significant signal to Horner and Marko, who might now consider the matter of his potential replacement for the next year with greater tranquility, given Perez's outstanding performance in this early part of the season.


In the Ferrari camp, after the double win in Australia, it was soon evident at Suzuka that replicating that result would be challenging. The RB20 was clearly superior to the SF-24, but there were still positive signs. For the fourth consecutive Grand Prix, a driver from Maranello stepped onto the podium. This time, it was Carlos Sainz, who maximized the opportunities of his race. His strategy was flawless; starting fourth, he finished third, overtaking Lando Norris, who had qualified third with the McLaren-Mercedes. Sainz showed determination in his overtakes after the two pit stops, confirming his consistent improvement in performance. Despite having one fewer Grand Prix than his teammate Charles Leclerc, he has practically the same number of points.


Leclerc, starting from an unimpressive eighth position in qualifying, managed to finish fourth, supported by an effective race strategy with a single tire change. Although it wasn't the ideal choice for the entire race, it proved to be a wise decision at the time. The Monegasque driver skillfully managed the medium tires in the first stint and controlled the second part of the race. The third and fourth-place finishes, despite being over 20 seconds behind Verstappen, put Ferrari in a solid position, consolidating second place in the constructors' standings.


McLaren fought hard to challenge Sainz and Leclerc but without success. Norris, starting third, finished fifth, disappointed by a couple of errors that affected his result. Further back, Oscar Piastri finished eighth, engaging in various duels, including a particularly intense one with George Russell in the final two laps. Mercedes settled for seventh place with the young British driver, while Lewis Hamilton finished ninth. Both drivers are frustrated by their car's performance, which seems to be stagnating. Despite development efforts, Aston Martin-Mercedes remained in its established "zone," and Fernando Alonso finished sixth. The glory days of 2023 seem distant. Lance Stroll, after a disastrous qualifying, fought but remained out of the points.


Yuki Tsunoda provided an exciting spectacle, buoyed by support from all of Japan. His tenth-place finish confirms his excellent form and that of Racing Bulls-Honda. Daniel Ricciardo, on the other hand, concluded his race at the second corner of the first start. In a frantic moment like the opening meters of the race, he veered too far to the right to take the left turn, failing to consider Alexander Albon's presence beside him with the Williams-Mercedes. This incident had heavy repercussions for both teams, especially Williams, which continues to suffer from incidents involving its drivers. Logan Sargeant, despite a decent race, made a mistake at turn 9, finishing last.


Alpine-Renault's race was disastrous. Pierre Gasly, at the second start, attempted a risky maneuver, colliding with both himself and his teammate Esteban Ocon, causing a chaotic situation that favored the overtaking of many other cars. A shameful performance for a team of Renault's caliber, but there's no need to dwell on this matter. Nico Hulkenberg lost any chance of aiming for the tenth place with the Haas-Ferrari due to a poor start, finishing in 11th. There was little to be done for Sauber-Ferrari, which resolved the pit stop issue but had to retire Guanyu Zhou due to gearbox problems.



© Cavalieri Garage & Co.

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