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SUZUKA: Red Bull Racing’s Dutch driver Max Verstappen celebrates on the podium with second-placed Red Bull Racing’s Mexican driver Sergio Perez (L) and third-placed Ferrari’s Spanish driver Carlos Sainz Jr ( R ) after winning the Formula One Japanese Grand Prix race at the Suzuka circuit in Suzuka. – AFP
SUZUKA: Red Bull Racing’s Dutch driver Max Verstappen celebrates on the podium with second-placed Red Bull Racing’s Mexican driver Sergio Perez (L) and third-placed Ferrari’s Spanish driver Carlos Sainz Jr ( R ) after winning the Formula One Japanese Grand Prix race at the Suzuka circuit in Suzuka. – AFP

Max Verstappen bounces back, more Mercedes misery

SUZUKA: Max Verstappen cruised to victory ahead of Sergio Perez as Red Bull claimed a one-two finish for the third time in four races. The triple world champion has taken an early stranglehold on the world championship, ahead of the fifth race in China in two weeks.

AFP Sport looks at things we learned from Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix:

Verstappen ominous

Verstappen said after his win at Suzuka that it was “a very long season” and he wanted to “approach it race by race”. But Mercedes boss Toto Wolff had already seen enough to declare that “no one is going to catch Max this year”. Wolff said the other drivers are competing to be “the best of the rest”, and the dominant nature of Verstappen’s victory made it easy to understand why. The Dutchman never looked troubled in controlling the race from start to finish, and crossed the line 12.5sec ahead of team-mate Perez. “Whenever I needed to go faster I could, whenever I needed to look after my tyres I could,” said Verstappen.

“That’s always a nice feeling to have when you’re driving.” Red Bull’s early season success has been overshadowed by team disunity and allegations against team boss Christian Horner.

There was no outward sign of turmoil at Suzuka, with Verstappen saying he was “very happy” with the team. The triple world champion appears to be building an ominous head of steam.

Mercedes stuck in neutral

Wolff was not even scheduled to travel to Japan but his Mercedes team’s lacklustre start to the season forced him to change his mind. He may have wished he didn’t bother after another disappointing weekend for the once-mighty Silver Arrows. George Russell finished seventh, two places ahead of Lewis Hamilton, who had problems with tyres and steering. Wolff tried to put a positive spin on the weekend, saying it had been “better than the final results suggest”. “From what we’ve seen here, we can say that the car is becoming quicker,” he said. Hamilton did not appear convinced: “If we want to move up the grid, then we will need to add more performance to the car.”

The build-up to the race was dominated by talk of a successor to Hamilton, who will join Ferrari at the end of the season. He will want to go out with a bang but the chances of that look slim on current evidence, despite some tentative signs of improvement over the weekend.

Tsunoda outshines Ricciardo

Yuki Tsunoda was everywhere at Suzuka—three giant banners emblazoned with his face hung from the grandstand and fans waved posters of him from every corner of the track.

The Japanese favourite repaid their support with a 10th-place finish—the first time he had scored points at his home grand prix. Tsunoda started from 10th on the grid but dropped back before the race was red-flagged on the first lap.

His RB team helped him claw back his position with a lightning-fast pitstop. “Our mechanics did a fantastic job—it was such a fast pitstop that allowed us to overtake two cars, and that’s insane,” he said.

“Without that, it would have been a lot more difficult to score points today, so the team deserves big credit.” Tsunoda also scored points with a seventh-place finish in Australia two weeks ago. With experienced team-mate Daniel Ricciardo struggling, Tsunoda is becoming RB’s main man—at least in the eyes of fans in Japan. – AFP

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