Christian Horner knew Max Verstappen was ready to return to winning ways from his aggression in a game of padel tennis as the Dutchman moved to the brink of a third world title with victory at the Japanese Grand Prix.
Verstappen was imperious around the high-speed corner circuit at Suzuka, beating McLaren’s Lando Norris by over 19 seconds as Red Bull sealed the constructors’ championship with a record six races to spare.
The 25-year-old’s record 10-race winning run and Red Bull’s unbeaten season was ended in Singapore a week ago, but he hit back in style.
Verstappen is now within touching distance of a hat-trick of world titles, extending his lead over team-mate Sergio Perez to 177 points, and could even win it in the Saturday Qatar sprint race in two weeks’ time.
“I played padel tennis with Max on Wednesday and he was properly fired up and made it clear ‘I want to win the race by 20 seconds’ and in fairness he came within 0.7 of a second of achieving that,” team principal Horner said.
“You could tell from the very first lap in practice one that he was totally focused on this event.
“It is a circuit that he loves and enjoys. It was an outstanding performance. His laps in qualifying yesterday, particularly that final lap has to be up there with one of the best laps of all-time in qualifying.
“Max is absolutely at the top of his game, he is the best driver in F1 at this point in time.
“He’s just got this inner hunger, determination and huge ability. He doesn’t get distracted by the trappings of F1. He is an out-and-out racer. If he is not racing in the real world he is racing in the virtual world.
Constructors' Championship Complete pic.twitter.com/OefiHo6sa2
— Oracle Red Bull Racing (@redbullracing) September 24, 2023
“He’s a winner and he loves winning. You’ve seen that competitive spirit at its utmost this weekend.”
Red Bull are the first team in Formula One history to win the team championship with six races to spare as Verstappen’s victory moved the Milton Keynes-based team 318 points clear of second-placed Mercedes in the standings. It is Red Bull’s sixth constructors’ title since their debut season in F1 in 2005.
They clinched it at the track owned by their engine supplier Honda, with Horner paying tribute to the entire team.
“To achieve this sixth constructors’ championship is beyond our wildest dreams. Coming into the season I don’t think we could have ever dreamt of having a year like this,” Horner added.
“Last year was a very strong year for us but to have kept that momentum rolling through the year that we have had is testimony to all the men and women in the team that have worked tirelessly.
“To repeat a season like this, to do better than we are doing is impossible. We are riding a wave and we want to ride that wave as long as we can.
“It is very fitting that we have won the championship here on the 75th anniversary of Honda at their circuit at Suzuka.”
While Verstappen coasted to the win, it was a tough day for Perez, who broke two front wings and was handed two penalties before retiring on lap 15.
He then came back into the race briefly on lap 40 before retiring again, with the team keen for him to serve his outstanding penalty rather than suffer in Qatar.
“It was just a disastrous weekend,” Perez said.
Congratulations on your sixth Constructors' Championship, @RedBullRacing.
Thoroughly deserved and re-wrote the history books in the process. Looking forward to our next battle on track. pic.twitter.com/9TladaYJ0S
— McLaren (@McLarenF1) September 24, 2023
McLaren showed further signs of their progress by comfortably beating Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc to seal second and third – with Oscar Piastri picking up his first F1 podium.
“Another amazing day for us. A P2 and P3, so we couldn’t have asked for anymore,” Norris said.
“We are pushing, we are getting there. The progress we’ve made is pretty outstanding.”