Dre’s Race Review: F1’s 2024 Japanese Grand Prix

Now in April, Japan’s 2024 GP provided tyre wear, another Williams in a fence, and normal service resumed for Red Bull. Dre Reviews Max’s 20th win in the last 22…

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Dre Harrison Reviews



Read time: 7 mins

“Normal Service Resumed.”

So, we did enjoy our little holiday from Red Bull dominance? Because man did we get fish slapped in the face with a reality check as Max Verstappen would win the Japanese Grand Prix without getting out of third gear. Let’s try to make some sense of a genuinely intriguing weekend beneath the surface, and a return to form for the reigning World Champions.

They say all good things in life come in threes. This was Max Verstappen’s third win of 2024. It was his third consecutive win around Suzuka Circuit, now in April rather than September. With Sergio Perez following Max home, it was Red Bull’s third 1-2 finish of 2024 and only the third time in F1 history that the season’s started with four 1-2 finishes to start the year. (1953 and 2019)

But look, there are only so many ways I can dress up another dominant Max Verstappen victory. Max claimed that their race pace looked susceptible, but once they got going, Carlos Sainz, their nearest challenger couldn’t stay with either Bull, and Max was still just a cut above Checo in the open air. And if you keep tabs on the speed traps and telemetry, you could tell Red Bull was only at about 80% of what they could do and had complete control of the race. Max could stop whenever he wanted, overtake the 1-stopping Leclerc, and extend a stint at the end when he had a 20-second advantage over the nearest car in red. 

And as said, don’t look now, but Sergio Perez is holding up his end of the deal. Helmut Marko reckoned that Checo had gotten his head down knowing it was contract season and the man probably had a point. Barring Australia, which wasn’t fully on him given he had Nando’s tear-off stuck on his car, he’s been excellent in his role, with improved race pace and three second-place finishes. If he keeps this up for a little longer, he’ll return in 2025. Remember, he got his last extension at Monaco. More on that dynamic in a bit. 

One more terrifying fact before I end this section: Ayrton Senna, the legend who in the eyes of many, is the greatest F1 driver ever, had 41 career wins. Max Verstappen’s won 41 out of the last 54. The same three world titles in that timespan too.

It’s an interesting dynamic beneath Red Bull at the moment. I enjoyed the “Who’s finishing second” arc we got throughout 2023, but I can see why most people will never be fully invested in that. What we’re getting right now though, is the opposite. If there was any doubt left after Australia, it should now be erased – Ferrari is the clear #2 team in F1 right now and it’s somewhat refreshing to see them operate at a good, confident level again. 

Carlos Sainz is driving like a man possessed at the moment, with his third podium in as many starts in 2024, the clear best-of-the-rest performer for the season so far. And I’m genuinely delighted that Charles Leclerc got recognised by the fans for Driver of the Day for his outstanding tyre conservation in making a 1-stopper work for 4th place. An excellent recovery from a surprisingly sub-par qualifying effort, struggling to keep heat in his tyre. While it wasn’t the optimal strategy, Charles executed it to perfection, and Ferrari got both their cars into the best possible outcome for the strength of the car at the moment. In any case, this is a team that can now punish Red Bull from the box office position if the Milton Keynes team slips up, and that’s exactly where they need to be. 

Especially when you look at that 2023 bar fight they were in. McLaren isn’t terrible by any stretch, but they’re not executing as well as they were last year. Norris has been excellent but was hung out to dry strategically in Japan. Oscar Piastri has been fine but hasn’t kicked on like so many hoped he would this season. David Sanchez has now gone in a shock departure, leading to another McLaren technical reshuffle, their second in two years. Zak, is everything alright at home?

And then there’s Mercedes, and… ooft. I’m glad Lewis Hamilton took the positives out of the practice sessions before a miserable GP had him ninth after picking up front-wing damage when Leclerc went around the outside of him on the opening lap. And with George Russell only coming home in seventh, it’s become clearer that Mercedes is the Number 4 team in F1 right now, the worst they’ve been since 2012. Ouch.

Ferrari’s back in the driver’s seat again, and they’re about to inherit the sport’s strongest driver pairing in maybe two decades next year. Reasons to be optimistic in Italy for the first time in a while…

Okay, so when do we admit that Daniel Ricciardo is in big trouble here?

This was another wasted weekend for the Honey Badger. He was very unlucky to have just missed out on Q3, having been knocked out by teammate Yuki Tsunoda. And then on Lap 1 of the race, he gets caught looking in the wrong wing mirror as while he looked at Lance Stroll’s Aston Martin, he clipped Alex Albon in a three-wide entering the esses, putting both himself and the Thai driver in the wall and out. The stewards deemed it a racing incident and I agreed with their summary, the fact it was Lap 1 and the mitigation of Stroll leading to Ricciardo escaping a grid drop for China. 

More salt only got added to the wound as Yuki Tsunoda would go on to score Japan’s first home point in F1 since “Coach K” Kamui Kobayashi had that miraculous podium for Sauber in 2012. The warm applause for the home hero was very warming as Yuki drove a blinder to get himself back into play after an awful start, and a superb RB pitstop had him jump the gaggle of midfielders around him. Bahrain petulance aside, Tsunoda’s been excellent so far this season in maximising an RB car that doesn’t look as strong as many thought it did in pre-season testing. All this while RB admitted they’re giving Ricciardo a new chassis to see if that’s the reason his pace has slipped.

And this leaves Ricciardo in a very precarious position. He walked back into the sport in the middle of 2023 confident he was making a pitch for the Red Bull seat in 2025 and having a homecoming tour. He was a man who already earned a benefit of the doubt from his horrible time at McLaren, with Christian Horner talking about untangling his bad habits from his time in Woking. He got a shot at AlphaTauri but accidentally harmed his stock via his unfortunate metacarpal injury and a genuinely impressive Liam Lawson run as substitute teacher. 

Daniel was unlucky towards the end of 2023 when he came back as he was caught in incidents that weren’t his fault in Brazil and COTA, but the emphasis was made clear going into 2024 he needed to beat Yuki Tsunoda to put himself in promotion contention comfortably and he just hasn’t done that. Breaking even at best with Tsunoda, a guy who’s already doing a fourth year there out of stagnation isn’t a good look. And with Perez’s improvement on the senior team, it looks more unlikely than ever that Daniel’s prophecy ends up fulfilled. So with Red Bull finally getting some stability above, and a hungry Lawson below, Ricciardo looks like the man in the middle most expendable if the trigger gets pulled. 

It sums up a horrible turn of events for Daniel. He was king of the world in 2020, having a stunning final season at Renault. Two years of beatings at McLaren and a reboot that failed to get renewed for a third season might be one stretch too many for a man whose insurance policy is seemingly about to expire. Ricciardo needs to find some form again, and quickly. 

Williams is damn lucky it’s seemingly another bar fight at the bottom of the standings because of three major crashes in two weeks and according to Scott Mitchell-Malm, multiple millions in cost-cap repairs after both Sargeant and Albon both ended up in the barriers over the Japan weekend. Ouch. 

Fernando Alonso described his sixth place as “one of the five best drives of his career” on Sunday. Not sure if that’s him being sincere, or another thinly veiled jab at Aston Martin’s struggle to find performance…

If not for his Bahrain start, would Nico Hulkenberg be the best driver in F1 pound-for-pound? That man is cooking for a Haas team that looks rather solid in 2024. 

Of course Alpine looked slow, AND their drivers hit each other again at the start of the race. I look forward to hearing Esteban Ocon be typecast again for no good reason…

Good news Sauber, you didn’t shred a wheel nut. Bad news, you had a slow stop at the worst possible time and Bottas lost three spots in the pitland with track position being king at Suzuka. Brutal. 

And just as a reminder: Christian Horner’s alleged sexual misconduct victim has filed an appeal with the company, as well as the FIA, while the same governing body has national chairs saying the organisation needs to sue the people who accused President Mohammed Ben Sulayem of tampering with Saudi Arabia last year. All while the FIA is also on the other end of a criminal complaint by Susie Wolff, demanding accountability for the quickly dismissed conflict of interest investigation levelled against her in December. Is there any semblance of leadership in the sport right now? (And no, before you comment – Bernie wasn’t any better at this shit either.)

About the Author:

Dre Harrison

Somehow can now call himself a Production Coordinator at the Motorsport Network, coming off the back of being part of the awkward Johto Era at WTF1. All off a University Project that went massively out of hand. Weird huh?

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