Max Verstappen started the countdown to his coronation ceremony in Qatar with his kiss for the Suzuka kiss trophy.

After his Formula 1 drive in Japan to his 13th victory of the season, the Red Bull driver can become world champion for the third time in a row in just two weeks after the sprint race in the desert.

“We’re having an incredible year and I’m proud of every single one of them,” said Verstappen, whose kiss made the interactive winner’s trophy shine in the Dutch national colors. “You built a rocket of a car.” Rocket man Verstappen only needs three points at the Losail International Circuit to catch up with legends like Ayrton Senna and Niki Lauda after world championship titles.

Red Bull has already secured its second constructors’ title in a row after the 16th Grand Prix of the year – despite the failure of teammate Sergio Pérez. With his previous 400 World Cup points, Verstappen would be alone ahead of the competition in the team rankings. “Max, that was absolutely fantastic. You were dominant the whole weekend,” team boss Christian Horner bowed to his successful driver.

After a domino crash on the first lap and five retirements at the Suzuka spectacle, Verstappen relegated Lando Norris to second place in the McLaren. His teammate Oscar Piastri secured his first career podium in third place in his debut season. Nico Hülkenberg in the Haas was once again unable to fight for points in 14th place. “It definitely feels pretty special,” Piastri said. “I’ll remember this for a very long time.”

WM-Titel in Qatar?

With his 48th career win and the fastest lap, Verstappen increased his lead over Perez to 177 points. If the Red Bull dominator has a total of 146 points more than his first rival after the Qatar weekend, he will be world champion again. “He has gotten even better at speed and he does it with an ease and confidence that is unbelievable,” said Red Bull motorsport consultant Helmut Marko on the TV channel Sky.

Just a few seconds after the red lights went out there was a crash. Pole man Verstappen, who had determined all the units in Japan, was just able to free himself from a McLaren pair of Piastri and Norris and race into the first corner as the leader. But the first pieces of debris flew behind it. Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu and Valtteri Bottas as well as Alex Albon (Williams) and Esteban Ocon (Alpine) collided. Their cars were damaged and the safety car had to be deployed on lap one.

Mercedes man Lewis Hamilton also got something, he reported a push from Pérez, who had a short Grand Prix to forget. The Mexican had to go to the pits immediately to have a new front installed on his car. Pérez also received a five-second penalty for illegally overtaking cars during the safety car phase. At the end of the fourth lap, Verstappen was allowed

The World Cup dominator traveled to Japan highly motivated after his mixed weekend in Singapore. Verstappen showed all his determination in qualifying and secured his ninth pole of the season with a mega lap. Even the failure of the steering wheel screen didn’t stop the Dutchman from his 29th career pole. Behind them, Piastri and Norris were clearly behind.

Things continued to be miserable for Pérez. During a hasty overtaking maneuver against Hülkenberg’s teammate Kevin Magnussen on the twelfth lap, he damaged the front of his Red Bull again and had to come back in for a stop.

What will happen to Perez?

The Red Bull management assures that the man from Guadalajara has a contract for 2024. However, it is still questionable whether Pérez will actually remain Verstappen’s teammate beyond this season, given his mixed performances. On lap 15 he had to park his car, but came out again to serve a penalty. “It was a very black day for him,” said Marko. Perez himself admitted: “It was just a disastrous weekend.”

Meanwhile, Verstappen extended his lead over Norris to ten seconds. Just two laps after his first tire change on lap 17, the Red Bull driver took the lead again: optimal race management. Behind them, Norris and Piastri fought for second position within the team. After a warning from Norris over the pit radio, Piastri had to let the faster McLaren man pass on the 27th of 53 laps.

A year after winning his second world title early in Japan, Verstappen brought his success home once again. He then climbed onto his Red Bull and enjoyed the cheers of the fans with outstretched arms before posing with his crew in front of a banner with a large number six: Red Bull has won the team world championship that many times.