Max Verstappen shows his mental resilience, why there are there encouraging signs for Lewis Hamilton… and someone MUST snap Carlos Sainz up – FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED from Japanese GP

It was a case of normal service resuming on Sunday in Suzuka where Max Verstappen cruised to victory at the Japanese Grand Prix.

The Red Bull driver recovered from the disappointment of being forced into an early retirement last time out in Australia in emphatic fashion, finishing 12 seconds ahead of team-mate Sergio Perez as Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz claimed third.

It was yet another weekend to forget for Mercedes, whose lack of race pace was laid bare and saw George Russell and Lewis Hamilton limp to ninth and 12th respectively.

Mail Sport were on the ground all weekend in Japan and here are five things we learnt…

Normal service resumed at the Japanese Grand Prix with Red Bull's Max Verstappen winning
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Normal service resumed at the Japanese Grand Prix with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen winning

The Dutchman won in emphatic fashion but Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz impressed once more
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The Dutchman won in emphatic fashion but Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz impressed once more

Max is a machine

Pardon the obviousness of this one but hear me out.

Verstappen is used to winning. A lot. So much so that it cannot be easy for him to deal with the setback of falling short, as Verstappen did in Melbourne just over a fortnight ago.

Though that was down to a mechanical issue rather than driver error, a point-less race weekend Down Under would no doubt have still been eating away at the Dutchman as he spent his week off skiing on the slopes of northern Japan.

Verstappen looked like a man on a mission in Japan, his focus never wavering from the job at hand despite the additional pressure and commercial duties that come with a home race for the team’s engine supplier, Honda.

Yes, it always helps when you drive a car that currently operates in a different league to its competitors.

But this was an impressive show of mental resilience from Verstappen as he bounced back in some style.

Verstappen showed his mental resilience to bounce back from having to retire in Australia
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Verstappen showed his mental resilience to bounce back from having to retire in Australia

Ferrari are firing…

Though Red Bull secured their third one-two finish of the season in Suzuka, it shouldn’t go unnoticed that the gap between the Red Bulls and Ferrari in the constructors championship is only 21 points.

That is largely thanks to a huge improvement in the consistency of their race performances this season.

The car looks to be a joy to drive in the longer stints for Sainz and team-mate Charles Leclerc, though there are certainly issues to iron out in qualifying. Leclerc, typically so strong at producing when it matters over one lap, was left scratching his head when he could only manage to secure eighth spot on the grid in Suzuka.

But, on the whole, the first four races of 2024 have highlighted just how significant the improvements have been with Ferrari’s car over the winter. They are timely steps forward, too, given they have two drivers currently operating at the very top of their game on race day.

Ferrari are firing at the start of the season after significant improvements over the winter
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Ferrari are firing at the start of the season after significant improvements over the winter

… And that’s an encouraging sign for Hamilton too

He didn’t take too kindly to the line of questioning when asked about it post-race, but Hamilton will surely be getting a little bit excited about how well things are going at the Scuderia given he will be sat inside that Ferrari from next season.

The timing of the Brit’s move to the Italian outfit looks like a smarter move by the day as Mercedes struggles rolled into another race weekend. There looks to be no simple solution to their various car conundrums either.

Hamilton is a consummate professional and will be steadfastly focused on finishing the job at hand at Mercedes.

But at the same time, there must be a part of him starting to get a little giddy over the fact that the days are ticking down until he is sat at the helm of that Ferrari.

Lewis Hamilton walked out of an interview after being asked a question about Ferrari
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Lewis Hamilton walked out of an interview after being asked a question about Ferrari

Hamilton is focused on his job at Mercedes but his move to Ferrari looks smarter by the day
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Hamilton is focused on his job at Mercedes but his move to Ferrari looks smarter by the day

Someone snap Sainz up

In the infamous words of Rio Ferdinand with regards to then-interim Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: ‘Get the contract out, put it on the table, let him sign it, let him write whatever numbers he wants to put on there… let him sign the contract.’

That’s exactly what team principals up and down the grid should be doing with Sainz after another excellent showing from the Spaniard in Japan, which followed on from his miraculous recovery from appendicitis to claim victory in Melbourne.

The 2024 season is only four races old but now is the time for bosses to pull out all the stops and convince Sainz that their project is the one worth getting on board with. He is a quite frankly brilliant, and some would say smooth, operator.

Carlos Sainz backed up his victory in Melbourne with another impressive showing in Japan
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Carlos Sainz backed up his victory in Melbourne with another impressive showing in Japan

Team principals should attempt to convince Sainz their project is worth getting on board with
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Team principals should attempt to convince Sainz their project is worth getting on board with

Woe for Williams

Spare a thought for the good folk in the Williams garage, who must have clocked up some serious overtime hours already this season.

In Australia, the team were only able to race with one car after Alex Albon sustained heavy damage to his chassis in a crash. With no spare available, it was Albon, somewhat contentiously, who was selected to compete in the race while driving team-mate Logan Sargeant’s car.

There must have been a few hearts in mouths, then, when Sargeant’s car went flying into the tyre wall on his first lap in practice on Thursday.

There was thankfully no damage to the chassis with that spare not due to arrive until the Miami Grand Prix in a month’s time.

Williams' Alex Albon, right, crashed out at Suzuka after contact with Daniel Ricciardo, left
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Williams’ Alex Albon, right, crashed out at Suzuka after contact with Daniel Ricciardo, left

But soon after the weekend did take a turn for the worse when Albon crashed out in the opening lap of the race after contact with Daniel Ricciardo.

Team principal James Vowles could really do with a weekend where both his drivers keep their cars on the straight and narrow.

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