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The race began with Verstappen moving across to cover teammate Perez into Turn 1. Sainz and Norris fought for third which fell by the way of the McLaren driver, while Piastri tried to do the same to Alonso. The veteran driver used all his guile to keep ahead of the #81.

It proved to be a rather fruitless exercise when the red flag came out a minute or so later.

Daniel Ricciardo’s hopes for a points paying finish ended within two corners of the race start.

Having gained on teammate Yuki Tsunoda off the line, Ricciardo was forced to ease to the left side of the track as the Japanese touched the #3 then dived to the inside of his fellow RB driver at Turn 1.

Ricciardo was forced to open the steering wheel and lift on the accelerator to avoid further contact, which saw his car squirm for traction at the mid point of the corner. He immediately dropped places to Hulkenberg, Bottas and then Ocon, who all began on the soft compound tyres, as he fought to regain his pace.

Lance Stroll moved towards the inside of the Australian on the approach to Turn 2 and Ricciardo responded by moving to the right side of the circuit. Unfortunately for both Ricciardo and Alex Albon, the soft shod Williams had looked to sweep around the outside of the duelling RB and Aston Martin.

The left front of Albon’s Williams touched the right rear of the RB ahead, braking the tyre bead. Ricciardo pirouetted into the tyre wall where he was soon joined by Albon who found himself half-buried in the tyres.

Both drivers emerged unharmed as the red flag waved. The race stopped for some thirty minutes as the cars were recovered and the wall repaired.

With a full race restart scheduled for the Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton and George Russell gambled on a switch to the hard compound tyres, as did Ocon Gasly and Sargeant. That strategy provided the potential for a solitary pitstop against the two stops required by those on the medium and soft compound tyres.

The second start pretty much mirrored the earlier attempt, save for the accident at Turn 2, as Verstappen headed Perez, Norris, Sainz, Alonso and Piastri through the opening corners. The two Alpines made contact in the run towards Turn 1, but continued without harm, while Russell locked a brake in the Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 and dropped behind a fast starting Tsunoda.

By lap 8, the first of the soft tyre runners were into the pits for the hardest compound tyres. Bottas and Hulkenberg dropped to 17th and 18th respectively, while Tsunoda returned in 16th.

The status quo remained amongst the Top 10 until Lap 12 when Norris made his first stop. The McLaren resumed in tenth. Whilst Norris returned in clear air, Piastri found himself amongst the battle between Magnussen, Ocon and Sargeant for 9th.

Lewis Hamilton made a call to his engineer to ask whether he should let teammate Russell pass by. The message soon came back to swap positions, to which Hamilton duly obliged.

Zhou became the third retirement of the race with a mechanical issue on Lap 14.

Alonso, Verstapppen, Perez and Sainz all elected to run the medium compound tyres for the middle stint, which ensured another stop for the quartet later in the race.

By Lap 16 it was Leclerc, who had yet to stop, from Verstappen, Russell, Hamilton, Norris, Perez, Sainz, Alonso, Piastri and Magnussen.

The Ferrari struggled to maintain the pace on the well worn rubber and soon fell back into the clutches of Verstappen. The #1 retook the lead on Lap 20 of 53.

Hamilton had fallen prey to the medium runners around him and was running in seventh place on Lap 21 when he told his engineer to ‘Change the strategy.”

He was told that it would be done once the right pitstop window arose.

Whilst Norris had been able to climb back behind Leclerc, in what was an effective second place, Piastri struggled to clear the pack ahead in ninth place. He gained one place when Russell made a second stop on Lap 23, though Alonso had managed to skip some three-seconds clear of the Australian in sixth place.

Both Leclerc and Norris pitted at the half-distance point on Lap 27 and were separated by Russell in seventh on their return to the race. Piastri stopped six laps later and this time returned to a clear circuit ahead in ninth.

Verstappen and Perez were second and fourth respectively after their second stops, while it was Sainz this time that ran a long stint on his medium tyres. Verstappen returned to the lead on Lap 37 just prior to Sainz taking his second stop. That gave the Dutch driver a ten second advantage over his second-placed teammate.

A spin for Logan Sargeant at the second Zegna curve gave no favours for Piastri as the Williams reversed back onto the track as the pair approached under waved yellow flags.

George Russell joined the Aston Martin and McLaren in the battle for sixth place over the closing five laps of the race. The trio ran within DRS range of each other, with Russell having the advantage of the faster medium tyres over the pair ahead.

A late dive by Russell at the penultimate corner forced Piastri off the track momentarily, though the Australian managed to withstand a challenge do

“He gave me no room at the chicane, I had to cut,” Piastri radioed back to the team as the Race Control noted the incident.

A lock up by Piastri at the final corner on the second last lap gave Russell the momentum and the Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 pilot swept past for seventh at Turn 1.

SUZUKA, JAPAN – APRIL 06: Pole position qualifier Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing and Second placed qualifier Sergio Perez of Mexico and Oracle Red Bull Racing celebrate in parc ferme during qualifying ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Japan at Suzuka International Racing Course on April 06, 2024 in Suzuka, Japan. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Verstappen took the win from Perez and Sainz. Leclerc, Norris, Alonso, Russell, Piastri, Hamilton and Tsunoda rounded out the Top 10 finishers.

Photos: F1 & ORBR FB


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