[Verstappen explains “tight” McLaren battle into F1 Japanese GP first corner
Verstappen was largely unchallenged throughout the Suzuka race en route to a commanding win but faced a battle against the fast-starting pair of Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris into the first corner.
Front-row starter Piastri flanked Verstappen as the race began with third-placed Norris on the Dutchman’s left, which Verstappen reckoned gave him limited space to work with to ward them both off.
Explaining his defensive efforts, Verstappen explained that both McLaren cars had made a “jump” off the line and that keeping the inside line from Piastri’s clutches was his first port of call.
“Of course, the start was a bit tight in the first two corners, but after that, the car was very nice to drive again,” Verstappen said.
“I saw in the right mirror that Oscar had a little bit of a jump on me, but then at the same time, I saw in my left mirror that Lando had a real jump on me.
“I tried to close off Oscar but he was still there, and then I saw on the left side Lando coming with a lot more speed.
“He then moved a bit to the right and I was like, ‘I can’t go more to the right!’. So I was trying to get it straightened and luckily, nothing happened.
“It all got quite close, but that’s racing, that’s how it goes at the start. We had a good battle also into Turn 1, into Turn 2. But I was lucky, I think, that there was a bit more grip in Turn 2, just on the normal line instead of trying to go around the outside.”
Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19, Lando Norris, McLaren MCL60, Oscar Piastri, McLaren MCL60, the rest of the field as contact incidents unfold down the pack
Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images
Norris added that he would take moving ahead of Verstappen for “maybe half a second”, while Piastri quipped that he was in the perfect place to re-enact the 1990 clash between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost – which Norris jokingly suggested that his younger team-mate should try after qualifying on Saturday.
Piastri said that although he lost a place to Norris around the outside, he felt that backing out and cementing third was his best course of action for the rest of the race.
“Looking back on it now, I was in the perfect position to emulate Senna and Prost. Like, literally perfect,” Piastri laughed.
“I saw I got a good launch. I got a bit too excited on the throttle pedal in the second part of the start and at that point, I knew I wasn’t far enough alongside Max.
“I could see Lando was coming around the outside. I think settling for third was definitely the safest option [for me] at that point.”