Max Verstappen on brink of title after easy Japan win

Max Verstappen moved to the brink of winning his third world championship after a comfortable win at the Japanese Grand Prix.

Verstappen held off the two McLarens at the start and was unchallenged for the rest of the race, eventually beating McLaren's Lando Norris by nearly 20 seconds. 

The victory, Verstappen's 13th from 16 races this year, means he can win the title if he finishes third or higher in the sprint race at the Qatar Grand Prix in two weeks' time.

By winning at Suzuka, Verstappen also secured Red Bull the constructors' championship for the second year in a row, the team's sixth title. 

"Max that was absolutely fantastic," Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said over the radio after Verstappen crossed the line. "You were 19.4s ahead of the rest of the field and that wins our sixth constructors' championship."

The Dutch driver is now one race win away from matching the record he set last year for the most victories in a calendar year. 

As had been the case in qualifying McLaren was the closest challenger to Verstappen and the team did what it was unable to do at Silverstone's British Grand Prix in July, with both its drivers securing a podium. 

Rookie Oscar Piastri scored the first podium of his F1 career behind Norris. 

Verstappen's teammate Sergio Perez had hoped to fight back from fifth for a podium but he retired at mid-distance due to damage from a first-lap incident. 

Charles Leclerc took fourth for Ferrari ahead of Lewis Hamilton. 

Carlos Sainz was fifth in the other Ferrari, having passed George Russell in the final laps. 

Russell had spent the earlier part of the race battling Mercedes teammate Hamilton for position, which included being pushed wide at Spoon corner by the seven-time world champion. 

Mercedes had put Russell onto a one-top strategy in an attempt to beat the McLarens but he ended up dropping down the order. 

Fernando Alonso, Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly rounded out the points paying positions. 

The early stages of the race were dramatic, with an early Safety Car sent out following a chaotic opening sequence of events.

As Perez forced Lewis Hamilton on to the grass, further back Valtteri Bottas and Alex Albon collided. The resulting debris hit the car of Bottas' teammate Zhou Guanyu and gave Alpine's Esteban Ocon a puncture.

Perez had to pit for a new front wing and was clearly carrying damage as he tried to fight back from last position. He eventually retired from the race after tangling with Haas driver Kevin Magnussen. 

In an unusual move, Red Bull later sent Perez back out on the circuit for one lap so he could serve two penalties, one for the Magnussen collision and the other for an infringement under the Safety Car. 

Logan Sargeant had another messy race, colliding with Valtteri Bottas with a clumsy move at the Turn 11 hairpin shortly after the restart.