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Max Verstappen Returns to Winning Form at the Japanese Grand Prix

The Dutchman led a Red Bull 1-2 finish in the Japanese Grand Prix while Yuki Tsunoda finished in points for the first time at his home track.

Max Verstappen bounced back from his forced retirement in Australia to win the Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday, April 7 while Yuki Tsunoda finished 10th and in the points for the first time at the Suzuka Circuit.

Verstappen, who started from pole position, cruised to victory to lead a Red Bull 1-2 finish with the Dutchman taking the checkered flag 12.535 seconds ahead of teammate Sergio Perez.

"I think the critical bit was of course the start, to stay ahead," Verstappen said. "After that the car got better and better for me throughout the race."

Carlos Sainz of Ferrari, the winner of the March 24 race in Australia, was third, with teammate Charles Leclerc finishing fourth.

Japanese Grand Prix
The start of the 2024 Japanese Grand Prix. (KYODO)

The race got off to a rocky start on the first lap when the front left wheel of Alexander Albon's Williams Mercedes clipped Daniel Ricciardo's car, sending the RB driver into a tire wall.

Both drivers were unhurt but couldn't continue and the race resumed after a 30-minute delay.

Japanese Grand Prix
RB's Yuki Tsunoda (right) finishes 10th in the Japanese Grand Prix. (KYODO)

Solid Race for RB's Yuki Tsunoda

RB driver Tsunoda, who started 10th on the grid dropped down to 12th after the restart but worked his way back up after a series of fine overtakes.

His biggest moment came when he passed Nico Hulkenberg of Haas Ferrari on the 34th lap to jump into 10th place.

With five laps to go, Tsunoda fended off a challenge from Aston Martin's Lance Stroll and Hulkenberg to secure the final point with his best finish at Suzuka.

Another big moment for Tsunoda came with a brilliant pit stop by the RB team on Lap 23 of the 53-lap race that saw the Japanese driver leapfrog Sauber's Valtteri Bottas and Williams' Logan Sergeant.

"One of the big highlights was the pit stop," Tsunoda said. "Our mechanics did a fantastic job, it was such a fast pit stop that it allowed us to overtake two cars and that's insane. Without that, it would have been a lot more difficult to score points today."

Japanese Grand Prix
Yuki Tsunoda (KYODO)

Tsunoda finished out of the points in his first two attempts at Suzuka in 2023 and the year before.

He became the first Japanese driver to score points in his home race since Kamui Kobayashi did so in 2012.

"Finally being able to score points in front of my home fans, here and those who couldn't make it to the track and watched on TV, makes me a very happy guy," said Tsunoda, who is in his fourth year in F1.

Japanese Grand Prix
Red Bull's Max Verstappen in action during the race. (Issei Kato/REUTERS)

Verstappen Enjoys Triumphant Return in Japanese Grand Prix

For three-time world champion Verstappen, it was a third successive pole-to-victory conversion at Suzuka and his third win in four races this season.

In a rare setback, Verstappen was forced to retire early in the Australian Grand Prix on March 24 due to a fiery mechanical failure.

"It was a little hiccup of course, the last race, but [I'm] very happy that we are here back on the top," Verstappen said. "Great fans, in front of [Red Bull engine provider] Honda as well, [so] it's fantastic to win here."

Japanese Grand Prix
Red Bull's Sergio Perez navigates the Suzuka Circuit. (Issei Kato/REUTERS)

Perez turned in a strong performance to give Red Bull another 1-2 finish after their perfect results in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

Verstappen leads the driver standings with 77 points, 13 ahead of Perez.

Japanese Grand Prix
A view from the stands during Sunday's Japanese Grand Prix. (KYODO)

Tsunoda, who received six points for a seventh place finish in Australia, is now 11th in the driver standings with seven points.

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Sainz Moves Past Norris and Leclerc Late in the Japanese GP

Sainz benefitted from a late pit stop and fresher rubber to pass McLaren's Lando Norris, who was fifth, and Leclerc in the closing laps.

Fernando Alonso drove his Aston Martin to sixth place, finishing ahead of Mercedes driver George Russell and McLaren's Oscar Piastri.

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton, a seven-time world champion, was ninth, ahead of Tsunoda.

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Author: Jim Armstrong

The author is a longtime journalist who has covered sports in Japan for over 25 years. You can find his articles on SportsLook.

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