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Verstappen masterclass in delayed thriller overshadowed by driver fury
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Verstappen masterclass in delayed thriller overshadowed by driver fury

Verstappen masterclass in delayed thriller overshadowed by driver fury

Verstappen masterclass in delayed thriller overshadowed by driver fury

Verstappen masterclass in delayed thriller overshadowed by driver fury

Max Verstappen dominated a delayed Japanese Grand Prix to inch closer to his second drivers' world title.

The Dutchman held off Charles Leclerc at the initial start and after a lengthy rain delay following first-lap carnage, Verstappen eased to his 12th victory of the season.

Leclerc had looked destined to finish an easy second, but tyre troubles for his Ferrari left him in the clutches of Sergio Perez.

But despite the superior pace of the Red Bull, Perez could not find his way through and was forced to settle for third after a dramatic finish.

However, a penalty for the incident promoted Perez to second. As the race resumed and was not suspended when finished, full points were deemed to be awarded and Verstappen was declared trackside as world champion, despite confusion.

Verstappen had a poor start for the second weekend in a row as Leclerc pulled alongside and took the initiative into the first corner, only for the Dutchman to sensationally drive around the outside of the Ferrari and retain the lead.

Sebastian Vettel's stunning qualifying was put to waste when contact with Fernando Alonso at turn one sent the Aston Martin spinning to the back of the pack.

Zhou Guanyu spun at the hairpin as Alex Albon developed a terminal issue after early contact, being forced to retire his Williams, but up ahead, Sainz lost control of his Ferrari and crashed into the barriers, triggering a safety car.

Pierre Gasly collected an advertising board and was left furious when passing a tractor on track the next time by, issuing the FIA a reminder of the tragic incident involving Jules Bianchi in similar conditions at the circuit eight years previous.

Drivers prove talent as race resumes

After a delay of over two hours, the race got back underway with 45 minutes left on the three-hour clock, albeit behind the safety car.

Those at the front during the initial safety car laps were happy to get the race going but at the back, for the likes of Valtteri Bottas and Daniel Ricciardo who provided vital feedback to the FIA, suggesting visibility was too poor.

Despite those concerns, the safety car peeled into the pits at the end of the third tour and racing resumed with a rolling start with 40 minutes to go.

Vettel and Nicholas Latifi gambled straight away with a switch to intermediates, racing side-by-side on the exit of the pits.

Lando Norris and Bottas followed a lap later with both of the risk-takers gaining time on their out laps.

Kevin Magnussen made his bravery known with a stellar move on Lance Stroll at the first Degner as on the third lap after the resumption, drivers spelt into the pits.

Red Bull double-stacked as Mercedes and Leclerc followed amongst others. George Russell was dismayed by the decision to make the switch.

Mick Schumacher stayed on track as Haas gambled for a safety car and despite being overtaken by Verstappen, the German briefly led the race.

Magnussen made another move in the Haas, up the inside of Bottas into Spoon.

His Haas team-mate plummeted as the wet weather tyres proved to be the wrong choice, with Vettel remarkably finding himself in sixth following his early stop.

Verstappen in a league of his own

Verstappen was untouchable at the front of the field, lapping two seconds per lap faster than the rest of the field.

Perez found himself 13 seconds adrift of the race leader after 10 minutes of racing, running in a race of his own six seconds ahead of Esteban Ocon.

Russell, frustrated by falling out of the points through the pit stop phase, came on the radio to complain about brake issues akin to those he suffered from in Singapore qualifying.

With tyres beginning to wear on the abrasive Suzuka track surface, the race timer was dissuading further tyre changes.

Both Leclerc and Verstappen began to struggle for pace, not before the championship leader had stretched his lead to nine seconds over the Ferrari.

Yuki Tsunoda was running in the points during his first home grand prix but Russell audaciously drove around the outside of the final right-hander at the esses, moving into 10th.

The Briton made further progress by overtaking Norris' McLaren into the final chicane.

Leclerc hits tyre jeopardy

Leclerc's tyre issues began to hit a critical stage with 20 minutes to go, the Monégasque asking his pit wall how many positions would be lost with a pit stop.

When the answer came back as five, Leclerc was forced to wait it out but lapping one and a half seconds per lap slower.

With eight minutes remaining, Perez latched onto the back of Leclerc.

Meanwhile, Alonso saw Zhou lapping six seconds faster than team-mate Bottas on a new set of intermediate tyres and took a gamble, pitting himself and dropping from seventh to 10th.

Within two laps the Spaniard had made his way back to eighth as team-mate Ocon held off Hamilton's advances lap after lap.

The Leclerc-Perez battle went down to the final lap, with the duo almost making contact at the hairpin as the Ferrari driver struggled for grip.

Second looked in the bag for Leclerc before a mistake at the final chicane saw him cut the track and when defending position upon rejoining, he squeezed Perez to the edge of the track, earning a five-second penalty.

Ocon held off Hamilton for fourth, whilst Vettel's gamble resulted in sixth, albeit crossing side-by-side with the charging Alonso.

Russell finished eighth ahead of Latifi, who secured his first points of the season in fine fashion whilst Norris rounded out the top 10.

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