Alex scored the best result of his young F1 career with a battling drive to fourth place at the Japanese Grand Prix. But there was disappointment for Max at Suzuka, as the Dutch driver was forced to retire from the race after 14 laps following a first corner collision with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.
Vettel slotted into second place and third-placed Leclerc immediately came under pressure from Max who tried to overtake the Monegasque racer around the outside of Turn 1. There was contact and Max was bounced off track. He recovered as quickly as possible and rejoined but it was at the back of the field.
Behind the leaders Alex also got away poorly from sixth on the grid. As he bogged down off the line, he was passed by both McLaren drivers and by the end of lap one found himself in seventh place where he began to plot the way forward.
He was soon on the attack and on lap four he muscled his way past Lando Norris through the final chicane. Norris protested that he had been forced off track in the incident but the stewards eventually ruled that no further action was necessary and Alex set off after the next McLaren on the road, that of Carlos Sainz.
Ahead, Leclerc carried on in P3 for a number of laps but eventually gave in to the deteriorating state of his car and pitted for a new nose cone and a set of medium tyres. He emerged at the back of the field and began to carve his way forward, rising to P13 by lap 14 as he dismissed the slower cars ahead.
Max, though, was struggling. The Dutch driver reported that his car was “moving massively under braking” following the clash with Leclerc and later that his tyres had been flat-spotted as a result. Eventually the battle became too much and after 14 laps Max steered his RB15 into the pit and the garage, where he retired from the race.
With Leclerc and Max out of the reckoning, Alex was now fifth, but bottled up behind Sainz, who was doing a good job of defending his position.
The Team opted to bring Alex in on lap 15, as the first of the leading pack to pit. The Thai driver took on medium tyres and rejoined in P11. He was followed by Vettel, who opted for a new set of softs and then Bottas and Hamilton, both of whom took on medium tyres.
OUR RACE IN NUMBERS:
- 4 – Fourth place is Alex’s best F1 result to date. His previous bests were fifth in Belgium and Russia.
- 2 – DNFs for Max this season. The last one was in Belgium. Prior to that you have to go back to Hungary 2018 for his third most recent.
- 323 – Alex’s fourth place means the Team now has 323 championship points.
Alex was soon on the march, climbing back through the field to quickly regain P5 by lap 21. Again he was stuck behind Sainz who was eeking out laps on starting softs as he pursued a one-stop strategy. Eventually the Spanish driver finally peeled off towards the pit entry for his sole stop of the race on lap 26 and Alex was freed to build a gap ahead of his second stop.
At the front Vettel now found himself in danger from Hamilton and Ferrari pitted the German for a second time on lap 31. He took on medium tyres and rejoined in third, 20 seconds behind the championship leader.
Alex now had a free stop back to Sainz, and the Team brought the Thai racer in for his second stop on lap 34.
He took on another set of medium tyres and emerged almost six seconds ahead of Sainz in fourth place. He then managed the gap back to the McLaren and sixth-placed Leclerc for the remainder of the race.
Ahead Bottas made his second stop on lap 36 and took on a set of soft tyres. Hamilton assumed the lead of the race and there were nervous moments for the Finn as Hamilton strode away and seemed comfortable on his ageing medium tyres. Eventually though the Briton made his way to the pit lane on lap 42 and after bolting on a set of softs he emerged five seconds behind second-place Vettel.
That gap was erased with four laps to go and the championship leader began to harry the defensive German. Vettel though had the advantage on the straights and he was able to keep the Mercedes man at bay in the closing stages.
After 53 laps Bottas crossed the line to take his sixth career win, with Vettel second ahead of Hamilton. Alex then crossed the line to take the best result of his career to date with a well-worked fourth place. Behind the lone Bull, Sainz took fifth for McLaren, while Leclerc clawed his way back to sixth place at the flag. Daniel Ricciardo put in a good performance to rise to seventh from P16 on the grid, while Pierre Gasly scored good points for Toro Rosso with eighth place.
He was however, placed under investigation after the race for a late move on Sergio Pérez who was classified ninth, but who crashed out on the final tour as a result of the clash with Gasly. The final point went to Renault driver Nico Hulkenberg.