5 In A Row For RBR’s Max Verstappen In Japan

Before Sunday, Verstappen had led a grand total of one lap (last year) at Monza, had never finished better than fifth in seven races at the famed Italian circuit, and hadn’t even seen the chequered flag the past two years. The Dutchman righted those wrongs in emphatic style, taking the lead on Lap 12 when pole-sitter Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) pitted, and then repelling every speed and strategic challenge Ferrari threw at him to see the view from the sport’s most iconic podium for the first time.

The victory was Red Bull’s first at Monza since 2013 and the team’s 12th for the season; with six races to go, the 2013 high-water mark for the team (13 wins) is tantalisingly within reach.

For Verstappen, who takes a 116-point championship lead into the next race and can mathematically clinch a second successive world title in Singapore, his 11th win of the year usurped the 10 victories of last season. His 31st win in total saw him draw level with British great Nigel Mansell for seventh all-time in the F1 history books.

Leclerc, who made two pit stops to Verstappen’s one in an attempt to get back on terms with the rampant Red Bull pilot, finished second in front of Ferrari’s boisterous tifosi. George Russell had another strong run in what has been a first season of consistency at Mercedes, coming home in third place.

Verstappen’s team-mate Sergio Pérez had a more difficult race from 13th on the grid, but it was one that ended with points and plaudits after coming home sixth and earning an extra world championship point by setting the fastest lap on Lap 46 of 53

Here’s how Verstappen banished his Italian GP demons at Monza.

Circuit atmosphere – Ferrari fans in the grandstand. 11.09.2022. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 16, Italian Grand Prix, Monza, Italy, Race Day. – www.xpbimages.com

In the wash-up, Verstappen’s getaway and first laps were the key. Fifth into the first corner, Verstappen was inside the top three within two laps and had pace and tyre life in reserve. Leclerc pitted on Lap 12 under a Virtual Safety Car when Sebastian Vettel’s Aston Martin expired, but Verstappen stayed out until Lap 25, gapping the Monegasque with relentless ease.

Ferrari pitted Leclerc again to give him fresher, softer tyres for the final 20 laps, but Verstappen never blinked, keeping the lead comfortably until Ricciardo’s late retirement bunched up the field. It slashed his winning advantage to a touch over two seconds, but it was a margin that underplayed his dominance.

Elsewhere, Nyck De Vries made a last-minute appearance for Williams when Alex Albon was ruled out with appendicitis just before final practice on Saturday, the 27-year-old’s long-awaited F1 debut coming in the strangest of circumstances.

De Vries, the 2019 F2 champion and 2020-21 Formula E titlist, took over Sebastian Vettel’s Aston Martin for the first practice session at Monza as part of the sport’s remit to give drivers on the outer some relevant seat time on a race weekend. The Mercedes-affiliated driver then spent second practice as an observer in the Silver Arrows’ garage, only getting the nod that he’d be racing for Williams while sipping on a cappuccino in the Mercedes hospitality tent 90 minutes before the final hour-long practice.

Williams hastily made changes to its FW44 machine to accommodate De Vries, who at 167cm is 19cm shorter than Albon, and some race overalls were made in record-quick time. By Saturday night, the Dutchman had qualified a credible 13th, ahead of regular Williams driver Nicholas Latifi. He started the race in eighth alongside compatriot Verstappen after penalties were applied to other drivers further up the grid.

De Vries then finished a composed ninth in Sunday’s race, earning Driver of the Day honours on a debut weekend he’s not likely to forget in a hurry.

After two years of compromised calendars, F1 returns to a sense of normality with its next two races after a welcome two-week break, Singapore (October 2) preceding Japan (October 9) as the sport bids farewell to Europe for another season.

The Marina Bay street circuit is slower than Baku and has less history than Monaco, but is as tough as F1 road courses get. The 5.063-kilometre track snakes its way around the Lion City’s most famous landmarks, and 61 laps of threading your way through 23 corners at night in stifling humidity the drivers haven’t experienced since 2019 is sure to make this race a survival of the fittest, not just the fastest.