- Pierre Gasly has best weekend since returning to Toro Rosso
- Max Verstappen retired due to opening-lap contact
Honda returned to its roots this weekend as the quartet of Formula 1 cars carrying its powerplants did battle on the Suzuka circuit developed by company founder Soichiro Honda at Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix.
The weekend took on a rollercoaster feel for the Honda-powered Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Team and Toro Rosso teams, as frontrunner Max Verstappen had his day blunted by opening lap contact while rookie Alex Albon took his Red Bull machine to a career-best fourth-place finish. On the Toro Rosso side, Pierre Gasly put together his best weekend since returning to the team, turning a ninth-place starting spot into an eighth-place finish and Daniil Kvyat made up a pair of positions to place 12th.
The rollercoaster feel started well before the lights went out to start Sunday’s race. Typhoon Hagibis cancelled Saturday’s qualifying, forcing the series to run its qualifying session on race-day morning for just the fifth time in the last 20 years. Verstappen led the charge by gridding fifth, joining teammate Albon in locking down the third row. Gasly advanced into the final qualifying session to start ninth while Kvyat took the 14th spot.
When the race started three hours later, Verstappen got a strong start and swept to the outside of Charles Leclerc to make a pass for third, but Leclerc slipped left and made contact with the Red Bull car, causing damage that would end the Dutchman’s day after just 15 laps.
Albon used a two-stop strategy that kept him comfortably near the lead pack all day, and the late change for tires allowed him to make a strong pass of Lando Norris to secure the fourth-place finish. Meanwhile in the Toro Rosso camp, Gasly pitted just once for tires and managed his Pirellis admirably over the final laps, holding off Sergio Perez to place eighth.
The result dropped Verstappen into a tie fourth in the season standings with Sebastian Vettel while Gasly fell to seventh. Albon continues to hold down the eighth spot, narrowing the gap to seventh to just nine points. Kvyat is 13th with four races to go but is just two points out of a berth in the top 10.
Formula 1 will have a weekend off to travel to the North American continent for back-to-back races beginning with the Mexican Grand Prix in Mexico City on October 27.
Technical Director, Honda F1
“This was a busy day for all the teams, with the unusual schedule, during which we managed to get three of our four cars into the top ten in the morning qualifying, which was satisfactory. Verstappen’s realistic chance of a podium disappeared almost immediately after his collision with Leclerc, which led to him retiring in the garage with a badly damaged floor. For a first visit to Suzuka, Albon did exceptionally well as did Gasly, who finished in the points after just missing out on the top ten last year in Suzuka. It was great to see the grandstand with 12,000 Honda fans and overall, a bigger crowd than in recent years. Everyone in the Honda team appreciated their support. Today’s result did not live up to our expectations, so we want to come back stronger next year and give our fans something more to cheer about.”
Aston Martin Red Bull Racing
Start: 5th, Finish: DNF
“I had a really good start and I think I was up to third place. I stayed on the outside at Turn 2 but Charles drove into the side of my car. It’s a long race so there was no need to risk so much so early. I re-joined at the back of the field but my car was severely damaged and we had to retire on Lap 15. From my side I don’t think I could have done anything different. It’s very frustrating as I think we had a good chance of being on the podium again especially after such a good start, which would have been amazing for all the Honda fans supporting us. We are definitely improving and the gap is closing but there is still more work to do before Mexico.”
Aston Martin Red Bull Racing
Start: 6th, Finish: 4th
“This weekend has definitely felt like my best with the Team. Immediately from FP1 I felt comfortable with the car, which is important for a track like Suzuka where you need a lot of confidence, especially on your first visit! I felt like I could have done better at the start but I had too much wheel spin off the line and lost a couple of places to the McLarens. I managed to get back past them but by then I had already lost a lot of time to the lead pack. The move on Lando (Norris) for P5 was on, he gave me space and left the door open but it was a bit tight! We then managed to get past Carlos (Sainz) with some good strategy, but from then onwards we were in no man’s land in P4. It was just about managing the tires to the end but with Max’s DNF it was good to score some points for the Team and fourth was the best we could do. I’m still finding my feet but I’m happy with my progress and we took a step forward this weekend.”
Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda
Start: 14th, Finish: 12th
“Everything was OK until the last lap of my qualifying. I don’t know why I was so slow on the last lap, the car felt a bit different to Friday – the conditions were quite different – but we all had to deal with it. Starting the race from P14 was not ideal and I knew it was going to be tricky. I feel like the race itself was strong, and even if we lost a couple of places at the start, from then on it was a solid recovery. It’s a shame not to score points because the pace was really good. We will need to work in order to improve our qualifying.”
Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda
Start: 9th, Finish: 8th
“I’m very happy with today! It started really well this morning as I made it to Q3 and qualified ninth. I spent most of the race running in P7 and P8, it was really intense as Renault and Racing Point were pushing very hard. We had a suspension issue in the middle of the race which made it quite tough, so I just gave it everything I had to keep the position. There were some intense battles and I really wanted to make it to the end for the team, Honda, and for the Japanese fans who came out to support us. I’m really pleased to score points for the team, especially in Japan…it feels really special! We can be pleased with the day and we can’t wait for the remaining races.”