Revenge is a dish best served cold? Based on the evidence here in Japan, Max Verstappen isn’t a believer of that mantra.
No, this was a blistering retaliation. On the searing tarmac at Suzuka, Verstappen, as he has done on 12 separate occasions already this season, scorched his opposition. Perhaps those doubters would rather ‘suck on an egg’ than dare question the Dutchman again.
Of course, nobody seriously believed that Verstappen’s stranglehold over his competition was coming to an end any time soon.
That blip in Singapore, which saw his marathon 10-race winning streak come to an abrupt halt, may have onset a cautious wave of optimism across the paddock, but the facts remain that in Qatar in two weeks’ time Verstappen could up world title No. 3 with five races to spare: no Formula One driver has secured the championship with more races remaining.
Verstappen, clear-minded after a ‘mature’ post-Marina Bay inquest and a drubbing of chief engineer Gianpiero Lambiase at padel tennis, arrived in Suzuka ready to send a message.
Max Verstappen starred to win the Japanese GP in dominant circumstances at Suzuka
Verstappen’s victory handed Red Bull a sixth constructors championship
But where he’s shown a willingness to go toe-to-toe with rivals in the past in an obstinate slugfest, this was a punishing, one-sided, beatdown. He was the first driver on the track on Friday morning and hasn’t looked back, a gruelling 12-round demolition where he’s walked away without a bruise in sight.
Although an opportunistic Lando Norris attempted to surprise his close friend at lights out when he seized a gap left open by Verstappen, with the Dutchman pre-occupied by the Briton’s McLaren teammate Oscar Piastri.
Norris got his nose in front, before Verstappen swiftly clawed back the lead and Piastri was pushed down to third. The camaraderie we saw between Norris and Carlos Sainz last time out in Singapore not displayed for the young Australian rookie.
An explosive start gave way to a subdued following four laps, with the safety car called on after Valtteri Bottas damaged his Alfa Romeo. His day went from bad to worse when the crash-prone Logan Sargeant shunted him into the gravel. ‘What the f***!?’ was the perplexed Finn’s response. Both drivers retired from the race, two of five men to bow out prematurely.
Bottas’s former teammate Lewis Hamilton had his hands full with new Mercedes partner George Russell. Hamilton, resembling a third member of Daft Punk in his special edition chrome helmet, challenged his young teammate to a game of chicken as they soared down the home straight side-by-side. It was Russell who twitched first and relented.
The battle resumed at Spoon Curve when Russell sought to seize upon a gap offered by Hamilton. The seven-time champion forced his teammate off the track, in a carbon copy of the incident that he fell victim to in his fight with Max Verstappen in Brazil two years ago.
‘Who are we trying to fight here, each other or the others?’ Russell fumed on the radio. Toto Wolff, watching on from Monaco while recuperating from a knee surgery, was surely tearing his hair out.
Norris too bellowed his frustrations down the team radio after losing his position to Piastri, who pitted for hard tyres under the virtual safety car. ‘What’s he doing?’ Norris moaned. ‘It’s just ruining the race now.’
Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri locked out the podium in an impressive race for McLaren
Christian Horner was delighted after the race as Red Bull won the constructors championship
The Australian may be a future star of the sport but he was shown in no uncertain terms that he is still very much the No. 2 at McLaren, and duly moved aside for his more experienced teammate. Although with a first podium in his young career here, he ought not to be too miffed.
Chaos ensued in the pitlane as disarray surrounded Verstappen’s confidence-battered Red Bull teammate, Sergio Perez. The Mexican, perhaps eager to take an early flight home from Tokyo, bowed out on Lap 15 but, having knocked Kevin Magnussen off course, was slapped with a five-second penalty by the stewards.
It was a torrid afternoon as Sergio Perez was forced to retire from the race after suffering vehicle damage
Red Bull, keen for him not to serve it in Qatar, pushed him back onto the track 26 laps later before bringing him back in for good. ‘Retire the car’, a defeated Perez pleaded during that bizarre stint.
Elsewhere, part three of the Hamilton-Russell battle was reaching an enthralling climax. Russell, in front of Hamilton due to a one-stop strategy, stubbornly refused to give up his position. ‘That’s an order, George,’ came the response from the garage. ‘So we’re playing the team game now?’ Russell hit back as he moved aside.
Lewis Hamilton was locked in a tense battle with George Russell throughout proceedings
Russell (right) wasn’t happy with Mercedes’ decision to invert drivers on the last few laps
Mercedes, attempting to emulate Sainz’s DRS genius in Singapore, tried to hold the Ferrari driver back but Hamilton was unable to keep Russell within range and the Spaniard passed.
‘We wasted all that time for no reason,’ Hamilton despaired.
But out in front there was not a second spared by Verstappen, another Sunday procession for the Red Bull man. Perhaps as he crossed the line the words of Mark Twain ran through his mind.
‘Reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated.’ More likely, a Dutch-inspired egg retort.