Ferrari have the capability to threaten Red Bull's recent dominance in Formula One, so says 1978 champion Mario Andretti.

Red Bull secured their second successive constructors' championship last month, with their number one driver Max Verstappen cruising to his third successive title at the Qatar Grand Prix shortly after.

Despite the poor form of Verstappen's team-mate Sergio Perez's, Red Bull have still accrued more than double the amount of points of the second-place team, Mercedes.

However, tentative signs in recent weeks have begun to hint at a long-awaited shift away from Red Bull’s dominance.

In Singapore, both Verstappen and Perez struggled - finishing fifth and eighth respectively - as Ferrari's Carlos Sainz claimed victory.

Ferrari were tipped to be serious title challengers this year and, despite their poor start to the season, Andretti is encouraged by their performances as of late.

"Well, they've shown the capability," he told Stats Perform. "There were two successive races where they were on pole, and then the one where Max Verstappen had some issues which they won. 

"So, they're there and can cause some issues for Red Bull. You're seeing Ferrari and McLaren also annoying Red Bull quite a bit. And that's the interesting part as well."

McLaren have been the surprise package in the second half of the F1 season, having struggled with their car earlier in the year.

The British team have bounced back superbly, with Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri both finishing on the podium in back-to-back races in Japan and Qatar and Andretti believes the future is bright for the young duo.

"It's been really interesting to watch how much McLaren has really improved in every way," he said.

"Obviously, they've given their drivers the equipment and the improvements that they needed to be competitive. 

"They've been right there, annoying the very top and Red Bull quite a bit. Two young drivers, one being a total rookie. There's a future there and no question, something to be built on. 

"Lando has shown that he is capable and between the two of them, it seems like they really get along very well. There seems to be a lot of harmony within the team."

McLaren's rapid rise has seen them put daylight between themselves and rivals Alpine this season.

Alpine pipped the British team to fourth in the team standings last season but have endured a disappointing season in 2023, with drivers Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly only able to secure one podium each so far this year.

They sit sixth in the standings and a considerable 129 points behind McLaren with six races remaining, but Andretti believes the team will soon rediscover their winning formula.

"You never know why some teams all of a sudden they fall behind; there are many reasons for that," he said.

"I wish you could say 'do this and that, and you'll be right back where you were, or even better', but there's always a reason somewhere.

"That's nothing unusual in this sport. And sometimes the team just have to reboot, but their competitive capability is there. No question. They've shown that before."

Mario Andretti has moved to allay fears that Max Verstappen's dominance of the drivers' championship might put fans off Formula One, asserting there is "nothing boring" about the Dutchman.

Verstappen sealed his third consecutive world title on Saturday, finishing second in an incident-packed sprint race in Qatar to ensure he can no longer be caught by Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez.

After subsequently capping his title by winning the Qatar Grand Prix on Sunday, the Dutchman has won 14 races in 2023, leaving rivals including seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari duo Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz trailing in his wake.

He also put together an unprecedented sequence of 10 successive victories earlier this year, leading to suggestions the one-sided nature of this campaign may impact F1's popularity.

The sport enjoyed a surge in popularity amid Verstappen's dramatic 2021 title tussle with Hamilton, while the Netflix documentary Drive To Survive helped engage a new generation of fans. 

However, 1978 drivers' champion Mario Andretti does not believe Verstappen's supremacy will have a negative impact on how the sport is perceived. 

"There's nothing boring about Max Verstappen," Andretti told Stats Perform. "The only thing is, the next thing that is obviously of interest is who can beat him? 

"That's the point, and that's interesting. You look forward to that every weekend, whenever the race is coming on, you say, 'I wonder if he's going to still be dominant?' 

"The other teams are not sitting still with the other drivers. But right now, Max is in a very enviable position to just really keep going."

Red Bull retained the constructors' title in September, with the team boasting a massive lead over Mercedes in the team standings. Andretti, though, does not feel changes are required to make things more competitive.

The team has won 16 of the 17 races so far this season.

"I personally love Formula One the way it is because, let's look at it on the technical side, you look at the grid and sometimes there are 10 to 12 drivers inside a second [of one another]," Andretti continued. 

"Each car, each team has different engineering, and the car looks different. Everybody obviously follows the same rules, but it's like a lawyer. A good lawyer obviously interprets a law maybe just a little bit better than the next one. That's what it's all about.

"I think Formula One has it all, it's got the technical side, but also, there's something to be appreciated there as to how close they come. I think that interest is there and will be prevalent."

Max Verstappen's third successive Formula One drivers' championship is "only the beginning", says 1978 title-winner Mario Andretti, who feels the Dutchman could go on to break records in the sport.

Red Bull star Verstappen wrapped up his third world title in as many years by finishing second in a dramatic sprint race in Qatar on Saturday, having left his rivals in the dust throughout a dominant 2023 season. 

Verstappen capped off his championship triumph in style on Sunday by cruising to victory at the Qatar Grand Prix.

The 26-year-old has a long way to go to match the accomplishments of the sport's all-time greats, however, with Michael Schumacher's record haul of seven titles being equalled by Lewis Hamilton in 2020.

However, Andretti – who captured the world crown when driving for Team Lotus in 1978 – feels those are the names Verstappen will be looking to hunt down in the coming years.

Speaking to Stats Perform, Andretti said of Verstappen: "There's no question that he fits the category of the greats, and it's ongoing.

"Like you say, it's three championships in a row and he's still going. There's no sign anywhere that he has reached a peak. 

"It's really fun watching someone like that, because he's just taking advantage of every single ounce that's at his disposal under any circumstance.

"The way I look at it, records are made to be broken. I never thought that Schumacher would have any rivals, not in my lifetime.

"I think Lewis Hamilton disproved that by tying that record, and Max is on his way, no question. 

"I mean, if there's anyone that you could consider to be a record-breaker, it's going to be Max Verstappen. At 26, it's only the beginning."

Verstappen has won 14 races this season, including an unprecedented run of 10 successive victories starting with May's Miami Grand Prix and ending after he triumphed at Monza last month.

Andretti recalled Verstappen's very first race win – which came as an 18-year-old at the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix – as he heaped further praise on the Dutchman for his dominant displays.

"What makes Verstappen a great driver is that he is something special," Andretti continued.

"As a matter of fact, when you say 'special', that's understating what this man is all about. He has shown something right from the very beginning. 

"I remember in 2016, what he did that day, he revealed himself. After that, obviously the rest is history. 

"He has been dominant and is taking advantage of every possibility in the best possible way. I think for any team on the grid, they're all envious of the fact Red Bull has a contract with this guy."

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 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.

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.

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.”

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.”

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.

A “fired-up” Max Verstappen sent a warning to the rest of the grid that Red Bull are back on form as he set a searing pace to top the first two practice sessions at the Japanese Grand Prix.

Verstappen’s record 10-race winning run and Red Bull’s unbeaten season came to a shuddering halt last weekend in Singapore, where the team admitted they did not understand their struggles with the car’s set-up around the street circuit.

The 25-year-old was confident of a return to form around the high-speed corner track at Suzuka, where Lewis Hamilton predicted the Red Bull would be “phenomenal”, but all eyes were on the Dutchman who is closing in on a hat-trick of world titles.

His response to the struggles of Singapore was immediate and emphatic, finishing 0.626 seconds clear of Ferrari’s Singapore-winner Carlos Sainz in P1 before beating Charles Leclerc by 0.320sec in P2.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said: “He dealt with (Singapore) very maturely.

“It was a difficult weekend but he raced very hard. It was what it was. He knew at some point we were going to get beaten and he dealt with the situation well.

“He has certainly come here pretty fired up as you could see from his outlap in P1 today.

“Max knew it was always going to come to an end at some point. That 10th victory meant a lot to him and certainly to the team so I’m glad Singapore wasn’t the 10th in that succession of races. I think he has just shown great leadership and great maturity.”

The second session was red-flagged with a little over two minutes remaining when Pierre Gasly crashed heavily into the barriers at Degner Two, bringing a premature end to the session.

McLaren had been tipped to be the closest challengers to Red Bull and Verstappen this weekend, with Mercedes’ George Russell even suggesting the British team could be favourites.

Lando Norris showed strong pace to finish the day third, albeit 0.464sec off the pace, while Oscar Piastri, who signed a contract extension earlier this week, claimed eighth in the second McLaren.

Red Bull will almost certainly clinch the Constructors’ Championship this weekend at the home race for their engine supplier Honda.

But Sergio Perez was over a second off the pace of his team-mate, finishing 11th in P1 and ninth in P2.

Fernando Alonso claimed sixth for Aston Martin ahead of the Williams of Alex Albon.

Mercedes pair Russell and Hamilton struggled in the opening session, finishing a lowly 13th and 16th respectively, with chief race engineer Andrew Shovlin admitting the team had work to do on the car setup.

Russell claimed fifth in P2 but Hamilton was only 14th, with the seven-time world champion a huge 1.141sec adrift off the pace.

Max Verstappen appears set to return to form at the Japanese Grand Prix after posting a blistering time in the opening practice session.

Verstappen’s record 10-race winning run and Red Bull’s unbeaten season came to a shuddering halt last weekend in Singapore, where the team admitted they did not understand their struggles with the car’s set-up around the street circuit.

Lewis Hamilton warned on Thursday the Red Bull car would be “phenomenal” around the high-speed corner circuit at Suzuka and, while practice times must always be treated with caution, it appears the runaway championship leader could dominate again this weekend.

Verstappen, who is closing in on a hat-trick of world titles, was the first car out on track and it took the Dutchman just a handful of laps to set the fastest time in every sector.

He finished the opening running 0.626 seconds clear of Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, who clinched victory in Singapore.

McLaren had been tipped to be the closest challengers to Red Bull this weekend with George Russell even suggesting they could be favourites.

Lando Norris delivered an impressive final lap to clinch third for the British team, ahead of the second Ferrari of Charles Leclerc and home favourite Yuki Tsunoda in the AlphaTauri.

Oscar Piastri, who extended his McLaren contract this week, claimed seventh just behind the Aston Martin of Fernando Alonso.

Red Bull will almost certainly clinch the Constructors’ Championship this weekend at the home race for their engine supplier Honda.

But Verstappen’s team-mate Sergio Perez finished only 11th and a massive 1.396sec adrift of the pace-setter.

The second practice session gets under way at 1500 local time (0700 BST).

Max Verstappen faces a fight to take pole position at the Singapore Grand Prix after calling his Red Bull “unacceptable” in final practice.

As Carlos Sainz raced to the top of the time charts at the Marina Bay Circuit, Verstappen finished fourth.

The Dutchman is on an unprecedented 10-race winning streak with his Red Bull team unbeaten at the 14 rounds of the season so far.

But Verstappen bemoaned the handling of his car in the city-state, describing the upshifts in his Red Bull machinery as “unacceptable”.

He added: “These upshifts, what the f***. I am just struggling for rear grip. If I competed in drifting, I might win the race.”

Verstappen returned to the track in the closing moments of the one-hour running, ringing the neck of his Red Bull to move from sixth to fourth, 0.313 sec slower than Sainz.

But his struggles will give the chasing pack hope of finally stopping Verstappen and Red Bull with Ferrari holding the upper hand heading into qualifying later on Saturday.

Sainz and team-mate Charles Leclerc traded top spot in the two practice sessions here on Friday, with the former again fastest in the concluding running before the fight for pole.

Leclerc looked set to eclipse Sainz only to make a mistake in the second sector before backing out of his speediest lap, finishing fifth.

George Russell took an encouraging second for Mercedes, just 0.069 sec slower than Sainz, with Lando Norris third in his McLaren. Lewis Hamilton was sixth for Mercedes, within half-a-second of Sainz.

Verstappen’s team-mate Sergio Perez, who won here last year, finished eighth, 0.719 sec back.

Qualifying for the 15th round of 22 takes place at 2100 local time (1400 BST).

Max Verstappen has told Toto Wolff to focus on his own team after he called the Dutchman’s record winning streak “completely irrelevant” and “for Wikipedia”.

Red Bull’s Verstappen became the first driver in Formula One’s 73-year history to win 10 consecutive races following his triumph at the Italian Grand Prix earlier this month.

But moments after Verstappen’s landmark win, Mercedes team principal Wolff said: “For me, these kinds of records are completely irrelevant. Those numbers are for Wikipedia and nobody reads that anyway.”

George Russell and Lewis Hamilton crossed the line a distant fifth and sixth respectively for Mercedes at Monza’s Cathedral of Speed.

And when asked ahead of this weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix for his reaction to Wolff’s unflattering appraisal, Verstappen said: “I mean, they (Mercedes) had a pretty s*** race, so he was probably still p***** off with their performance.”

Poking fun at what Verstappen perceives to be an obsession with Red Bull, he continued: “He almost sounds like he’s an employee of our team, but luckily he is not. It’s just important that you focus on your own team. That’s what we do and that’s what we did in the past when we were behind them and when they were dominating. It worked as a kind of inspiration.

“You should be able to appreciate when a team is doing really well. To see someone that dominant – it was very impressive at the time – and we knew that we just had to work harder, try to be better, and try to get to that level. And now that we are there, we are very happy, and we are enjoying the moment.”

Verstappen, now a victor at 12 of the 14 rounds so far, has not lost a race since the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on April 30, while his Red Bull team remain unbeaten this year.

But the Dutch driver has never won in Singapore and last season he finished only seventh. And Verstappen fears the high-downforce, low-speed nature of the Marina Bay Circuit could play into the hands of his rivals.

“We are not as competitive here as other tracks,” said Verstappen. “The streets are a little bit tougher for our car. We can do a good job, but it will be very tight.

“So, I want to try and continue that streak, but I know there will be a day that that stops. Normally, Singapore is a bit more of a risk and more chaos, but we are here to win.

“I never really looked at winning eight or nine, 10 races in a row. I just want to do the best I can. And every weekend is basically the same in terms of the pressure I put on myself to try and get the best result so nothing really changes.”

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.