Max Verstappen hailed his third Formula One world title as the finest of his career – and vowed to celebrate by downing a few sparkling waters.

The 26-year-old Dutchman has emulated Sir Jackie Stewart and Ayrton Senna after being crowned a triple world champion with six grands prix still remaining – equalling Michael Schumacher’s 21-year-old record.

Red Bull’s Verstappen has dominated Formula One since he beat Lewis Hamilton to clinch his maiden championship at the deeply controversial season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in 2021.

And his coronation of this most one-sided of campaigns was confirmed on lap 11 of 19 of a frantic sprint race when Sergio Perez in the other Red Bull crashed out under the floodlights of the Lusail International Circuit.

Verstappen has failed to win just three of the 16 rounds so far this season, and he became the first driver in history to win 10 consecutive races following a remarkable unbeaten streak from the opening weekend of May in Miami to the Italian Grand Prix on September 3.

Verstappen’s title parade will start here at 8pm local time (6pm BST) when the lights go out on Sunday’s 57-lap Grand Prix.

“This championship is the best one,” said Verstappen. “The first one was the most emotional because that is when my dreams were fulfilled. But this has been my best year in terms of performance.

“I am the most proud of this one because of how consistent I have been. I will have quite a few sparkling waters tonight, but I will be here tomorrow.”

Verstappen’s championship-winning campaign has been one largely led from the front but the Dutchman dropped from third to fifth at the end of the opening lap of Saturday’s sprint race.

After being usurped by Mercedes’ George Russell and Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc off the line, Verstappen momentarily got out of shape at the opening right-hander, with Fernando Alonso nibbling at the back of his machine.

Verstappen survived, and then slung his Red Bull underneath Lando Norris for fifth. Two safety cars followed as Liam Lawson and Logan Sargeant beached their respective cars and Verstappen – on the slower, but more durable, medium rubber – set about his comeback.

First to be swatted aside was Leclerc on the main straight on lap nine, with Sainz the Dutchman’s next victim on the following lap.

On lap 11, the championship was officially over. Esteban Ocon attempted to overtake Nico Hulkenberg on the inside of the second corner, and with Perez to the right of the Haas driver, Ocon lost control of his Alpine and took the Red Bull with him. It summed up the Mexican’s woefully disappointing campaign.

Perez shared two wins apiece with Verstappen from the opening four fixtures but his demise has been dramatic. He is 177 points – the equivalent of more than seven victories – behind the man driving identical machinery.

On lap 16, Verstappen eased past Russell with Oscar Piastri 2.6 seconds up the road. However, the impressive McLaren rookie could not be caught as he claimed his first win in F1. It did not matter for Verstappen who could celebrate becoming just the 11th driver to win the title on more than two occasions.

“Max, you are a three-time world champion,” roared Red Bull’s jubilant team principal Christian Horner over the radio. “That is unbelievable. It has been an incredible year for you.”

Verstappen, who starts on pole on Sunday, could claim the 49th win of his career with only Hamilton (103 victories), Schumacher (91), Sebastian Vettel (53) and Alain Prost (51) ahead of him.

Verstappen turned 26 only last week, and the prospect of emulating the seven championships shared by Hamilton and Schumacher is surely possible.

“I am enjoying the moment and hopefully we will keep this momentum going for a while,” said Verstappen, whose deal with Red Bull runs until 2028.

“It is different to other sports where you can set out targets and if I keep in good shape then these things are possible.

“But in F1 it doesn’t always work like that. It depends on the package. I have quite a few more years in me to operate at my best but we will see how long that is. It is more about how long I want to be here.

“I live in the moment and I have achieved way more than I ever thought was possible.”

Max Verstappen clinched the Formula One world drivers’ title after finishing second in the sprint race at the Qatar Grand Prix.

Here, the PA news agency looks at the Dutchman’s season and overall record in numbers.

3 – Verstappen has wrapped up his third world title.

11 – he is the 11th driver to win the title three times or more, and only the fifth to do so in successive years.

10 – along the way Verstappen produced a record-breaking run of 10 consecutive race wins, from the Miami Grand Prix in May to September’s Italian GP.

13 – his overall win tally this season, from 16 races. He has finished second twice, and fifth in Singapore.

407 – Verstappen’s points tally.

184 – lead over second-placed Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez.

10 – pole positions.

7 – fastest laps.

2 – sprint race wins.

48 – Verstappen’s career win total ranks fifth in F1 history. He has the chance to climb to fourth or even third by the end of the season, with Alain Prost winning 51 races and Sebastian Vettel 53.

6 – clinching the title in the Qatar sprint race means Verstappen did so with six grands prix remaining, equalling Michael Schumacher’s record from 2002.

Max Verstappen has been crowned champion of the world after he finished second to Oscar Piastri in Saturday’s chaotic sprint round in Qatar.

The 26-year-old Dutchman has emulated Sir Jackie Stewart and Ayrton Senna by wrapping up his third title with six grands prix still remaining – equalling Michael Schumacher’s 21-year-old record.

Red Bull’s Verstappen has dominated Formula One since he beat seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton to clinch his maiden title at the deeply controversial season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in 2021.

And the 26-year-old’s runner-up finish, coupled with Sergio Perez’s failure to finish in the top three – he crashed out with eight laps remaining – was enough to seal the deal under the floodlights of the Lusail International Circuit.

Verstappen’s championship parade will start at Sunday’s 57-lap Grand Prix in Qatar.

Lando Norris finished third for McLaren, one place ahead of Mercedes’ George Russell, with Lewis Hamilton fifth.

Verstappen’s championship-winning campaign has been one largely led from the front but the Dutchman dropped from third to fifth at the end of the opening lap.

As Russell blasted from fourth to second, a slow-starting Verstappen fell down the order, with Ferrari pair Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc leapfrogging the Red Bull man.

Verstappen momentarily got out of shape at the opening right-hander, with Fernando Alonso nibbling at the back of his machine.

The Dutchman survived and then slung his Red Bull underneath Lando Norris, who had started second, to take fifth.

Moments later, Liam Lawson beached his AlphaTauri and out came the safety car. Meanwhile, Perez, who had to finish in the top three to prevent Verstappen from taking the title, had dropped from eighth to 11th.

Perez threatened to fight Verstappen for the championship by winning two of the opening four rounds of the season. However, the Mexican’s challenge has faded desperately – he has not won since the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on April 30.

In came the safety car at the end of the second lap, and Russell, on the speedier, but less durable soft tyres, made his move on the medium-shod pole-sitter Piastri to assume the lead.

Then, the error-prone Logan Sargeant put his Williams in the gravel. The safety car was deployed again as the American’s stricken machine was cleared from danger.

The safety car pulled in at the end of lap five and Russell raced away from Piastri as Verstappen – on the slower, but more durable, medium rubber – set about his comeback.

First to be swatted aside was Ferrari’s Leclerc on the main straight on lap nine, with Sainz the Dutchman’s next victim on the following lap.

The race was starting to come back to those on the medium tyres, and Piastri roared past Russell to reclaim the lead at the start of lap 11.

And then the championship was officially over when Perez’s race ended in the gravel at Turn 2. Esteban Ocon attempted to overtake Nico Hulkenberg on the inside of the second corner, and with Perez to the right of the Haas driver, Ocon lost control of his Alpine and took Perez with him. It summed up Perez’s woefully disappointing campaign.

The safety car was deployed for a third time before a five-lap blast to the flag.

On lap 16, Verstappen eased past Russell with Piastri 2.6 sec up the road. However, the McLaren man could not be caught.

But Verstappen, who needed to finish only sixth to be sure of the title, need not worry as he celebrated becoming just the 11th driver to win the world championship on more than two occasions.

Max Verstappen has clinched his third world championship.

The most one-sided Formula One campaign of recent memory was dominated by the Dutch driver.

Here, the PA news agency looks back at six races which fired Verstappen on the road to glory.

Bahrain

Verstappen opened his championship defence with an ominous performance under the floodlights in Sakhir.

He finished 11.9 seconds clear of team-mate Sergio Perez and nearly 40 sec ahead of third-placed Fernando Alonso.

George Russell, 55 sec back in his under-performing Mercedes, summed up the mood in the paddock when he chillingly predicted Verstappen’s Red Bull team would win all 22 races this year.

Canada

Verstappen’s sixth victory from the season’s opening eight fixtures saw him match Ayrton Senna’s tally of 41 victories.

A day after taking pole position in the wet, Verstappen reigned supreme in the dry at Montreal’s Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

Even an early collision with a bird could not stop the flying Dutchman as he drew level with Senna to leave only Lewis Hamilton (103), Michael Schumacher (91), Sebastian Vettel (53) and Alain Prost (51) ahead of him in the record books.

“To tie with Ayrton is incredible and I am proud of that but I hope it doesn’t stop here,” he said. “I hope we keep on winning more races.”

Belgium

Verstappen’s invincible streak continued in the final round before the summer break at Spa-Francorchamps.

The triple world champion started sixth following an engine penalty but he took the lead on lap 17 of 44 before crossing the line 22.3 sec clear of his forlorn Red Bull team-mate Perez.

Hamilton, who finished fourth, 49 sec back, described his rival’s dominance as like “he is having a smoke and a pancake”.

Netherlands

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner hailed “untouchable” Verstappen as the best driver in the world after he overcame a chaotic rain-hit race to equal Sebastian Vettel’s record of nine wins in a row.

Despite two separate downpours wreaking havoc at the beginning – which left him in 13th place – and conclusion of the 72-lap race in Zandvoort, Verstappen delivered in front of 105,000 expectant fans. At one stage, Verstappen was lapping his home track four seconds faster than Perez and two seconds quicker than anybody else.

“Max is in a period of his career where he is just simply untouchable,” said Horner. “I don’t think there is any driver on the grid that would be able to achieve what he is doing in that car.”

Italy

Verstappen drove his way into the history books by taking his 10th-consecutive victory. He sat behind Carlos Sainz for 14 of the 51 laps at Monza’s Temple of Speed before fighting his way past the Ferrari pole-sitter at the second chicane.

From there, the commanding Dutchman never looked back to better the mark he shared with Vettel and become the first driver in F1 to reach double figures for straight victories.

However, there were sour grapes over at Mercedes with team principal Toto Wolff calling Verstappen’s remarkable streak “completely irrelevant” and “for Wikipedia”

Japan

Verstappen’s historic winning run, and Red Bull’s unbeaten season, came to an end in Singapore. But at the next round in Japan, he hit back in emphatic style.

He topped every practice session in Suzuka, secured pole, and then won at a canter as Red Bull became the first team ever to win the constructors’ championship with six races to spare.

Max Verstappen will begin his quest to win the world championship from third for Saturday’s sprint race in Qatar as Oscar Piastri took a surprise pole position.

Piastri saw off team-mate Lando Norris as McLaren secured a front-row lockout.

Lewis Hamilton was knocked out of Q2 and qualified only 12th in his Mercedes for the 19-lap dash, which gets under way at 8:30pm local time (6:30pm BST).

Verstappen will wrap up his third consecutive title if he finishes sixth or better, or if Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez fails to finish inside the top three in the sprint at the Lusail International Circuit. Perez qualified only eighth on yet another scruffy outing for the struggling Mexican.

A day after taking top spot for the start of Sunday’s 57-lap main event, Verstappen, who has dominated all year, saw his first lap in Q3 deleted for exceeding track limits at Turn 5.

And the 26-year-old Dutchman was unable to do enough on his final run to usurp Piastri, finishing two tenths behind the rookie Australian.

Norris was in the running for first place but he ran wide at the last corner and failed to improve on his earlier effort.

George Russell finished fourth for Mercedes – four tenths behind Piastri – and ahead of Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc, who took fifth and sixth respectively for Ferrari.

Sprint qualifying at a windswept Lusail – 18 miles north of Doha – was delayed amid fears over the safety of the tyres.

The running had been due to start at 4pm local time (2pm BST), but was delayed by 20 minutes following revisions to the track limits.

The drivers took part in an additional 10 minutes of practice to familiarise themselves with the changes made to the track at turns 12 and 13 prior to qualifying.

Formula One’s governing body, the FIA, said “a separation in the sidewall between the topping compound and the carcass cords” were discovered on the Pirelli tyres following yesterday’s one-hour running.

The federation believe the problem is likely to have been caused by a number of the high kerbs used at the circuit.

An emergency summit was staged in the build-up to qualifying with the drivers assured they would not be put in harm’s way.

Additional analysis will take place following today’s sprint race and further action – which will include three mandatory tyre stops – may be taken for Sunday’s grand prix.

Lance Stroll shoved his British performance coach and stormed out of a television interview after he was eliminated from Q1 in Friday’s running.

And the under-pressure Canadian fell at the first hurdle again on Saturday, one place better off in 16th.

Stroll’s Aston Martin team-mate Fernando Alonso, who also saw his best effort in qualifying chalked off for exceeding track limits, lines up in ninth.

Qualifying for Saturday’s sprint race in Qatar has been pushed back amid fears over the safety of the tyres.

The running had been due to start at 4pm local time (2pm BST), but it will be delayed by 20 minutes following revised track limits at the Lusail International Circuit.

The drivers will instead take part in an additional 10 minutes of practice at 4pm to familiarise themselves with the changes made to the track at Turns 12 and 13 prior to qualifying.

Formula One’s governing body, the FIA, said “a separation in the sidewall between the topping compound and the carcass cords” were discovered on the Pirelli tyres following yesterday’s one-hour running.

The FIA said the problem is likely to have been caused by a number of the high kerbs used at the circuit.

Additional analysis will take place following today’s 19-lap race, and further action – which will include three mandatory tyre stops – may be taken for Sunday’s grand prix which runs for 57 laps.

Max Verstappen will be crowned champion of the world for a third time if he finishes sixth or Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez fails to finish outside the top three in Saturday’s sprint.

A furious Lance Stroll shoved his British personal trainer and then stormed out of a television interview following his dismal qualifying session for the Qatar Grand Prix.

After he failed to make it out of Q1 – finishing more than a second behind Fernando Alonso in the other Aston Martin – Stroll took aim at his performance coach, Henry Howe.

Stroll ignored Howe’s request to exit the front of the garage. Howe attempted to restrain Stroll only for the Canadian to angrily push him out of the way.

Stroll, 24, then faced the media and provided six words to three questions about his performance which leaves him 17th on the grid.

Asked to describe his emotions, Stroll replied: “S***.” Quizzed on what is not clicking for him behind the wheel Stroll added: “I don’t know.”

And when he was challenged as to how he would handle the remainder of the weekend, Stroll simply said: “Keep driving,” before he walked off.

Stroll, the son of Aston Martin’s fashion billionaire owner Lawrence Stroll, has been blown away by team-mate Alonso this season.

Alonso, who qualified fourth for Sunday’s race here, has scored 174 points to Stroll’s 47.

He has claimed all of Aston Martin’s seven podiums this year while Stroll has managed only three points from his last seven appearances.

Max Verstappen took pole position for Sunday’s Qatar Grand Prix as the indomitable Dutchman closes in on his third world title.

Verstappen will be crowned champion of the world if he finishes at least sixth in Saturday’s 19-lap race at the Lusail International Circuit.

And the Red Bull driver started his quest to become just the 11th driver in history to win the title on more than two occasions in typically irresistible fashion by clocking the fastest time in qualifying.

In terms of the championship mathematics, Verstappen’s pole lap for Sunday’s main event will be redundant if he secures three points in Saturday’s sprint – the starting order for which will be determined by a second qualifying session here on Saturday afternoon – or Sergio Perez fails finish inside the top three. The probability of both are high.

As Verstappen raced to top spot, with George Russell and Lewis Hamilton securing second and third on the grid for Mercedes, Perez failed to make it out of Q2.

His best lap, which would have been fast enough to see him sneak through to Q3, was deleted for exceeding track limits at turn five. Perez, in equal machinery to the driver dominating the sport, will start 13th on Sunday.

Perez threatened to fight Verstappen for the championship by winning two of the opening four rounds of the season, but the Mexican’s challenge has faded. He has not won since the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on April 30, with Verstappen winning 11 of the next dozen races.

Indeed, only a Singapore blip for Red Bull has thwarted this most one-sided of seasons for the Dutchman.

He bounced back in impressive fashion to win in Japan last time out and his form under the Lusail lights, 18 miles north of Doha, indicates he will wrap up his third championship in as many years in style.

Qualifying did not pass without incident for the 26-year-old following a duel with the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz, who, like Perez, was a surprise casualty in Q2.

“What is he doing, man?” Verstappen yelled over the radio. “He is defending. You see that? I almost crashed into him.” The stewards are investigating the Spaniard for erratic driving.

Verstappen then aborted his final lap after making a rare mistake, but his first effort was good enough for first place, and he is primed to celebrate his probable title triumph on Saturday by claiming his 14th win from the 17 rounds so far 24 hours later.

Behind Verstappen, Lando Norris looked to have taken second place, but his lap was scrubbed after he put all four wheels of his McLaren over the white line, relegating him to 10th.

Russell was bumped up to second, one place ahead of Norris’ McLaren team-mate Oscar Piastri. However, the Australian’s lap was also chalked off, dropping him to sixth and promoting Hamilton to third.

Mercedes will take some comfort from being best of the rest, but Russell still finished four tenths off Verstappen, with Hamilton half-a-second down.

Max Verstappen finished fastest in practice in Qatar as he closes in on a hat-trick of world championships.

The Dutchman needs to finish only sixth in Saturday’s sprint race to clinch the title and he made light work of Friday’s sole practice at the Lusail International Circuit.

Verstappen finished three tenths clear of Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, with Charles Leclerc third in the other scarlet car.

Fernando Alonso took fourth spot for Aston Martin, one place ahead of Verstappen’s Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez.

George Russell and Lewis Hamilton finished only eighth and 13th for Mercedes.

Verstappen has dominated this season – winning 13 of the 16 races staged – and he will claim his third straight title if he scores three points in the 19-lap sprint race.

First, Verstappen must qualify for Sunday’s main event and, on the evidence of the early running, he appears favourite to take pole position.

The Dutch driver soared to the top of the time sheets of the one-hour running in the final minutes with a healthy third-of-a-second advantage to the rest of the field.

Russell was almost a second back in the lead Mercedes, with Hamilton 1.2 sec behind Verstappen.

Qualifying takes place at 8pm local time (6pm BST).

George Russell believes Max Verstappen’s imminent third world title will carry less satisfaction than his 2021 championship triumph over Lewis Hamilton because he has not been cornered into a proper fight.

The imperious Dutchman, in his all-conquering Red Bull machine, has failed to win just three of the 16 rounds so far, and he is expected to sew up his latest championship in Saturday’s sprint round in Qatar. A sixth-placed finish in the 19-lap dash round the Lusail International Circuit is all he needs.

Verstappen saw off Hamilton in a title battle for the ages two years ago before following up his controversial maiden world crown with a second last year.

But on the eve of his third coronation, Russell, labelled a “d***head” by Verstappen after an on-track row in Azerbaijan earlier this year, said the lack of firm competition has allowed his rival to excel.

“When it comes to any great in any sport, if the pressure is not turned up, you are in for a comfortable ride,” Russell told the PA news agency ahead of this weekend’s Qatar Grand Prix. “And I am sure the 2021 championship fight was more satisfying for him because it was a true battle.

“He has been exceptional this year, and there is no doubt about that. Week-after-week he has performed at such a high level.

“But we see the strategy review before every race, and the prediction every weekend, is of him going off into the distance. He can drive at 90 per cent and still win with 10 seconds to spare, and he knows that.”

Russell, 25, only five months younger than Verstappen, excelled in his first season with Mercedes in 2022. He landed the team’s only pole position, sole win, and out-scored team-mate Hamilton.

But heading into the final six rounds of this campaign, he is eighth in the standings, 75 points and five places adrift of his fellow Englishman.

Russell was close to tears after he allowed a rare opportunity to win slip through his fingers in Singapore – a race where he crashed out on the last lap – before he was embroiled in a number of spiky radio exchanges at the previous round in Japan as he duelled with Hamilton. Russell, on a different strategy to his team-mate, was ultimately ordered aside.

However, the younger Briton insists Hamilton, 38, is not owed preferential treatment. He is also adamant that he can beat the seven-time world  champion in a title fight if Mercedes provide him with the tools to do so.

“Absolutely,” said Russell, who will be paired with Hamilton until at least the end of 2025. “When you are going up against the best of all time, you are testing yourself.

“People can easily criticise me, but every single Formula One driver has a direct comparison to their team-mate, and my judgement is against the best driver ever, so that is why I don’t mind what people say.

“I took pride in last year’s performance. I took pride in taking the team’s only pole and only win, and I took pride when, at the start of the year in my first six races with the team, I was ahead of him (Hamilton) in almost every single qualifying session.

“But that is not why I’m here. If I end my career tomorrow, I am not going to be singing and dancing about finishing ahead of Lewis Hamilton in the championship.

“I am here to win world titles and I am here to fight. There is an equal respect between the two of us and we are on equal terms. It doesn’t matter if you are Lewis, who is a seven-time world champion and has been here for 10 years, or me who is 18 months into my time with Mercedes.

“We are on a level playing field and you only gain that respect by the performances you show on track and that respect has been earned.”

Hamilton may be on the longest losing streak of his career – 39 races have passed since he last entered the winner’s circle at the penultimate round in Saudi Arabia nearly two years ago – but he remains the grid’s biggest star.

“It is challenging for him when there are always the lights and cameras around, and rightly so,” added Russell, speaking in the Mercedes motorhome with Hamilton a few tables away.

“But we have had many occasions where we have just been one-on-one. Even in Suzuka last week we sat down and had dinner together for about two hours and chatted about things that two blokes would speak about down the pub. I feel like a normal person and when you take him out of the crazy environment he is just a normal person.

“It can be difficult to let your hair down. You are always on guard. And he is obviously very conscious of that. But when you are in a safe environment he is a great bloke, we get along, and it feels very normal.”

And what of next year? Will Russell, Hamilton and Mercedes be able to stop the Verstappen juggernaut?

“There was quote from (four-time world champion) Sebastian (Vettel) where he said ‘enjoy it, because it doesn’t last forever’,” concluded Russell. “We will get our chance and we have to be ready for it.

“What are Red Bull are going to do? Who knows? Of course they are favourites for next year. But it is down to us to wake up every morning, look in the mirror, and say ‘we need to bring our A-game every single day’, and if we do that we can give them a run for their money.”

Lando Norris believes McLaren’s strong driver pairing can be a big advantage as the team celebrated an “important milestone” with a double podium at the Japanese Grand Prix.

British driver Norris finished second for a second consecutive race, albeit well behind dominant race-winner Max Verstappen, while team-mate Oscar Piastri secured his first podium in his debut Formula One season.

After a tough start to the year, McLaren have impressed since their first big upgrade began at July’s Austrian Grand Prix.

Norris finished fourth at Spielberg before picking up back-to-back second-places at Silverstone and in Hungary.

Piastri, 22, has exceeded expectations this season, with a number of strong displays earning the Australian an extended contract earlier this week – none more so than at Suzuka given he had never even been to Japan before.

Norris feels their combined strength is a major plus for McLaren as they chase down Aston Martin in the constructors’ championship.

“I think our advantage at the minute comparing to almost every team, bar a couple, is we have two drivers who are up there fighting for these positions and fighting for these points,” Norris said after the race at Suzuka.

“And not every team has that at the minute. So I think that’s helping us. We can help one another, we can use one another, and I think that’s a good advantage we have over a lot of other teams at the minute.

“So we’re on an upward trend. We’re making good progress and days like today prove exactly that.

“The progress we’ve made this season has been pretty incredible from my eyes, and from where we were to finishing 19 seconds behind the lead is, I think, evidence of exactly that.

“So I’m proud of everyone and we’ll keep pushing.”

Team principal Andrea Stella described the result at Suzuka as “an important milestone in our journey at McLaren”, while Piastri celebrated a significant day.

“You never forget your first podium, regardless of whether it’s been a strong performance or not,” he said.

“So yeah, it will be a special day and I won’t forget it and also ticking the first podium off the list is always a nice achievement to have.”

There are six races remaining in the 2023 season, including three sprint weekends, with a trip to Qatar next on the agenda in two weeks’ time.

McLaren have closed to 49 points of Aston Martin in the standings and CEO Zak Brown is confident they have a well-rounded car to be strong for the rest of the campaign.

“The team is just doing such a fantastic job, executing week in, week out,” Brown told Sky Sports F1.

“We are trying to catch Red Bull. All we can do is chip a tenth at a time but Max was pretty dominant. I think we will be strong at the next race, so will keep pushing.

“I feel as confident as I can we will be pretty strong everywhere, but we know there will be some tracks that favour your car more than others and we are good in the high speed, which Qatar is, so we will be strong there and not be weak anywhere.”

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.

“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.

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.”

Lewis Hamilton criticised Mercedes’ tactics and suggested he and George Russell needed to “work as a team” after on-track battles throughout the Japanese Grand Prix.

The seven-time world champion finished fifth at Suzuka, two places ahead of Russell in a race where the pair scrapped repeatedly and aired frustration over the team radio.

After an early coming together where Russell surged past Hamilton before swiftly losing the place again, the 38-year-old pushed his team-mate off track in a second scrap and they then disagreed over how to defend their places against Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz.

Russell was struggling on his tyres having attempted a one-stop strategy, while others around him deployed a two-stop, and Hamilton urged his team to let him through.

The 25-year-old resisted on the radio before being told “this is an instruction, George” and allowing Hamilton to pass.

Hamilton was then told to stay within DRS range to help his team-mate defend against Sainz, as the Spaniard had done to thwart Russell a week ago in Singapore.

“We should have swapped around earlier and I should have got as far ahead as possible to get the gap as big as we could to the Ferrari,” Hamilton said.

“Because he (Russell) was trying to fight me he was damaging his tyres and I think it just made it all complicated.

“The fact is we are not fighting each other in the team championship. As drivers it is not important where we are.

“What is important is that one of us finishes ahead of the Ferrari and to keep the position. Today we really needed to work as a team.”

Hamilton also disagreed with the team’s DRS strategy.

“I don’t think that was a good idea at all,” he said. “When they suggested it to me I knew that they obviously thought of it from the last race but it made no sense.

“I needed to get as far clear as possible. I was on my way, around two seconds ahead and they asked me to give George DRS and I had to come off the gas down the straight.

“Then he got overtaken by Sainz. He then got past George and he was right on my tail which was not ideal.”

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff was absent for this race due to knee surgery, with his role divided among numerous other staff while the Austrian was on the intercom.

The team’s lead to Ferrari was cut in the battle for second in the constructors’ championship – which Red Bull clinched at Suzuka with a record six races remaining.

Max Verstappen stormed to victory, with McLaren pair Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri on the podium ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.

Russell, who lost sixth to Sainz at the death, said he had no hard feelings over the battle with Hamilton.

“The main goal is to finish P2 in the constructors’ championship,” Russell said. “The drivers’ championship is out of the window for me totally. Lewis is in a good place to fight for a good position.

“The goal is to finish ahead of Ferrari this season and keep on working for next year. No issues on my side.

“I viewed it as good, hard racing. Of course we lost a bit of overall time fighting each other. You are a bit frustrated on the radio but that is just part of racing.

“We are not even going to discuss it, there is nothing to discuss. We have bigger fish to fry which is how do we make the car go quicker.”

Max Verstappen moved to within range of a hat-trick of world titles by returning to winning ways at the Japanese Grand Prix as Red Bull clinched the constructors’ championship.

The Dutchman backed up his searing pace in qualifying by easing to victory by a massive 19.387 seconds a week on from seeing his record 10-race winning run ended in Singapore.

Lando Norris finished second ahead of McLaren team-mate Oscar Piastri and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, with Lewis Hamilton fifth and George Russell seventh for Mercedes.

Verstappen has won 13 of 16 rounds this season, extending his lead to 177 points over team-mate Sergio Perez – who endured a miserable afternoon – and he will have the chance to wrap up his third title at the Qatar Grand Prix in two weeks, potentially even in the Saturday sprint by outscoring Perez by three points or more.

While it was serene at the front, the race behind was thrilling as Perez was involved in two early collisions before retiring – only to briefly return – and Mercedes team-mates Hamilton and Russell scrapped with each other.

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 clear of second-placed Mercedes in the standings. It is Red Bull’s sixth constructors’ title since their debut season in F1 in 2005.

Norris predicted after qualifying that if Verstappen led after the 277-metre dash down to turn one, there would be nothing the rest of the field could do.

The McLarens put up a strong fight, sandwiching Verstappen as Norris surged around the outside to go second, but the pole-sitter emerged from the first corner ahead.

Perez was overtaken by Ferrari’s Singapore winner Carlos Sainz and drifted into Hamilton, forcing the seven-time world champion onto the grass.

The safety car was deployed before the end of the first lap due to debris on the track after heavy contact between Valtteri Bottas and Alex Albon.

Perez pitted under the safety car on lap three to replace a damaged front wing and fit the hard tyres but re-joined 17th.

The race resumed on lap five and Verstappen blasted clear of Norris.

Perez’s miserable start continued as he was handed a five-second penalty for overtaking under the safety car as he entered the pits.

It soon went from bad to worse as he suffered more front-wing damage in a collision with Kevin Magnussen, forcing him to pit again on lap 13, and was given another five-second penalty for causing the contact.

The Mexican was put out of his misery on lap 15 as Red Bull retired the car. Remarkably he was briefly sent back onto the track on lap 40, with the team keen for him to serve his outstanding penalty.

Elsewhere it was a story of battling team-mates.

Hamilton was soon engaged in a thrilling scrap with Russell, who slid up the inside at the final corner but Hamilton blasted back ahead down the pit straight.

The battle soon resumed as Hamilton ran wide and had to defend fiercely against Russell, forcing the 25-year-old off the track at the Spoon Curve.

“Who do we want to fight here, each other or the others?” Russell asked his team.

Hamilton’s defence was investigated but cleared by the stewards as he pitted first.

Meanwhile, Piastri had gained an advantage by pitting just as a virtual safety car was called, leapfrogging Norris after his pit stop.

Norris was soon on his team-mate’s gearbox, urging McLaren to act.

“The longer I stay behind the worse you are going to make the race for me,” Norris said, adding “What’s he doing?” before McLaren allowed him through.

Russell rolled the dice by attempting a one-stop strategy on an afternoon where tyre degradation was an issue for all the teams at a baking hot Suzuka.

But he was swallowed up by both McLarens, Charles Leclerc and team-mate Hamilton – with Russell urging his team to get Hamilton to give him DRS to defend from Sainz, as the Spaniard did a week ago to thwart Russell.

But Sainz moved past to take sixth as Ferrari gained the edge on Mercedes in the battle for second in the constructors’ standings.

Lewis Hamilton admits he is staggered by how far Mercedes are still behind the Red Bulls after Max Verstappen blew away the field to take pole position at the Japanese Grand Prix.

Verstappen hit back in style after seeing his record 10-race winning run and Red Bull’s unbeaten season ended in Singapore a week ago by finishing a massive 0.581 seconds clear of McLaren’s Oscar Piastri.

Lando Norris was third in the second McLaren ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Verstappen’s team-mate Sergio Perez.

But Mercedes struggled again, with Hamilton qualifying seventh and George Russell eighth – the seven-time world champion over a second adrift of Verstappen’s pole lap.

The Dutchman and Red Bull have dominated the sport over the last two seasons and Hamilton admits the gap that still exists between the two teams is a major concern.

“We as a team really need to when we go back and do the debrief – I hope the team already realise – but a second gap is huge. And it is real,” Hamilton said.

“To be two years in and still be a second down to the Red Bulls is not a good showing and we need to make sure we work hard over the winter to get back at least half that gap before next year.

“We have a very peaky car. It is like trying to balance a knife on its tip.

“It is never perfectly balanced, it is one way or the other. You try and get it as close as you can to the middle but it is very hard to do each weekend.”

Verstappen topped every practice session but Norris and Piastri had closed the gap in P3 to hint at a fight for pole at Suzuka.

But it never materialised thanks to Verstappen’s incredible pace on new tyres in the final session.

McLaren impressed again – especially Piastri who had never even been to Japan before this week.

“It’s been a very good day for us. A P2 and a P3 – a great job by Oscar today and as usual, by Max – but a good day,” Norris said.

“I was pretty happy with my laps. It’s a tricky circuit; not easy to put everything together but it’s so quick around here and the smallest mistake can take a big amount of lap time.

“I’m happy. It’s been a good day and good positions for tomorrow.”

Mercedes are unlikely to be in the fight with Red Bull or McLaren but are set for a scrap with Ferrari as they tussle over second position in the Constructors’ Championship – which Red Bull are almost certain to clinch on Sunday.

Leclerc delivered a strong lap for the Scuderia to line up on the second row – although he does face an investigation for exceeding the maximum lap time – while Singapore-winner Carlos Sainz starts sixth.

“I hope we can have a good battle with Ferrari tomorrow,” Hamilton said.

“They had an upgrade this weekend so they are a little bit ahead of us and it is not an easy track to overtake.

“But I am still going to give it everything and hope I can give them a run for their money tomorrow.”

Yuki Tsunoda, who was confirmed to be driving for AlphaTauri next season alongside Daniel Ricciardo, delighted his home fans by qualifying ninth.

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