Max Verstappen helped Red Bull clinch the Formula One constructors’ championship and took a giant step towards his third straight drivers’ title by winning the Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday.
Runaway championship leader Verstappen finished ahead of McLaren pair Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri and can lift the title at next month’s Qatar Grand Prix.
He holds a 177-point lead over teammate and nearest challenger Sergio Perez.
Verstappen’s win helped Red Bull clinch their second straight constructors’ title even though Perez retired from the race.
“You have built a rocket ship of a car,” he told his team over the radio after crossing the line.
Nearest challengers Mercedes were unable to stay in contention, with Lewis Hamilton finishing fifth and George Russell placing seventh.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was fourth, while teammate Carlos Sainz was sixth.
Verstappen was back to his breathtaking best after a disappointing fifth-place finish at last week’s Singapore Grand Prix.
“Unbelievable weekend, to win here is great,” said Verstappen.
“The car was working very well on every compound but the most important thing was to win the constructors.
“We are having an incredible year and I’m very proud of everyone.”
Verstappen held off a double challenge from McLaren to take the lead ahead of Norris at the first turn.
First the Dutchman veered right to squeeze out Piastri, who was starting from second on the grid, then moved left to stop Norris from darting through the gap.
“The start had too much wheelspin but after that it was quite a straightforward race,” said Verstappen.
Norris also finished second in Singapore and he said his McLaren team were “getting there”.
“My start was very good and I almost had Max, but Max is Max,” said the British driver.
“We’re not close to Max but we’re not miles away either.”
Australian rookie Piastri took his first podium finish behind teammate Norris.
“It feels pretty special, definitely – I will remember it for a very long time,” said the 22-year-old.
“I can’t thank the team enough for giving me this opportunity. It wasn’t my best race ever but it was enough to get a trophy at the end.”
The safety car came out after a chaotic first lap, with Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu taking damage at the start of the race.
Perez got into trouble when he picked up a five-second penalty for a safety car infringement.
The Mexican retired from the race a few laps later, telling his team “the car doesn’t feel right”.
He later came back out, ensuring that he would not have to serve his time penalty at the next race.
Red Bull chief Christian Horner said Perez “got knocked about a bit” in the race.
“It wasn’t his day but he’ll bounce back,” said Horner. “He’s been a big part of this success as well.”
Red Bull were still able to clinch the constructors’ title without Perez picking up any points in Japan.
“It’s been the most amazing year for us,” said Horner. “Max is on another level at the moment — another incredible performance.”
Russell and Hamilton tried to chase Leclerc but Sainz got himself in the mix by going past Russell late on.
Bottas, Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll and Williams pair Alex Albon and Logan Sargeant failed to finish the race.
Sabalenka to play in Brisbane
Aryna Sabalenka will launch preparations for the defence of her Australian Open crown by playing at the Brisbane International, organisers said on Tuesday.
Elena Rybakina – beaten by Sabalenka in the final in Melbourne at the start of this year – will also play at the December 31-January 7 Brisbane event.
Four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka was already named in the field as she returns to tennis.
“I’m excited about starting my 2024 Australian season in Brisbane,” world number two Sabalenka said in a statement released by organisers.
“Australia holds a special place in my heart after winning my first Grand Slam there.”
Tournament director Cam Pearson said he was looking forward to welcoming the Belarusian Sabalenka and Moscow-born Kazakh Rybakina, who is fourth in the world.
“We all remember the exciting Australian Open final the girls played at the start of the year,” he told a news conference.
“That has really kicked off what is a pretty exciting rivalry between the two players.”
On the men’s side, fast-rising world number 17 Ben Shelton of the United States will join a draw that also includes three-time Grand Slam winner Andy Murray.
Pearson said he would welcome Australian Nick Kyrgios to the tournament if he recovers from injury in time.
“We would love to have him here, he’s a past champion and a fan favourite but he needs to do what’s best for him and his recovery,” he said.
“If that means he’s playing in January, fantastic.”
Kyrgios had knee surgery in January and then aborted comeback plans at Wimbledon after tearing a ligament in his wrist.
Giro fail to reclaim top La Liga spot
Surprise package Girona failed to return to the top of La Liga on Monday after they were held 1-1 at home by Athletic Bilbao.
Winger Viktor Tsygankov put the hosts ahead 10 minutes after half time but Inaki Williams scored 12 minutes later to claim a point for the away side.
Girona trail league leaders Real Madrid on goal difference after dropping points for just the third time this season, while Athletic climbed to fifth spot.
Athletic had the better of the first half and their best chance fell to Gorka Guruzeta but the striker poked his shot straight at Girona goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga.
Girona had early chances of their own including an Aleix Garcia volley, which he skied over the crossbar, but did not find the rhythm they have found so often this season.
After the break, the hosts broke the deadlock when Tsygankov rifled home.
Williams, who started on the opposite wing from his brother Nico, equalised from a counter-attacking move that started in Athletic’s own box.
The wide man finished smoothly for his sixth league goal of the season as the Basques went looking for their third straight win.
With 10 minutes left, Inaki Williams came close to finding the winner as he cut in from the left but his shot was parried by Gazzaniga.
Inaki Williams was replaced in the final minute of normal time for youngster Adu Ares, but both sides were forced to settle for a point.
On Sunday, Rodrygo sent Real Madrid top with a double in 3-0 win at Cadiz.
Carlo Ancelotti’s Madrid are four points clear of fourth-placed Barcelona, who drew 1-1 at Rayo Vallecano on Saturday.
PCB announces Pakistan team management for Australia tour
The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) have announced the Team Management for the upcoming Test tour to Australia, which is scheduled to take place from December 2023 to January 2024. They will be playing three Test matches in Australia.
Former England cricketer Adam Hollioake has been hired as the batting coach. Hollioake played four Tests and 35 ODIs for England. The 52-year-old transitioned into coaching, contributing his expertise to the England Lions team. His coaching abilities were further recognized when he was enlisted to join England’s coaching staff for the final two Ashes Tests during the 2021-22 series.
Meanwhile, Simon Grant Helmot will serve as the high performance coach on the tour. Helmot is an Australian cricket coach, who was formerly the coach of the Melbourne Renegades in Big Bash League.
Last week, Umar Gul and Saeed Ajmal were announced as fast-bowling and spin bowling coaches, respectively, for the Pakistan team.
Naveed Akram Cheema (Team manager), Mohammad Hafeez (Director – Pakistan men’s cricket team), Adam Hollioake (batting coach), Simon Grant Helmot (high performance coach), Umar Gul (fast bowling coach), Saeed Ajmal (spin bowling coach), Abdul Majeed (fielding coach), Mansoor Rana (assistant team manager), Shahid Aslam (assistant batting coach), Drikus Saaiman (strength and conditioning coach/Trainer), Cliffe Deacon (physiotherapist), Talha Ejaz (team analyst), Lt Col (Rtd) Akhtar Hussain (security manager), Raza Rashid Kitchlew (media manager), Ammar Ahsan (videographer), Dr Sohail Saleem (team doctor) and Malang Ali (team masseur).
The Pakistan cricket team will play their first Test match against Australia in Perth from 14 to 18 December, followed by a Test match in Melbourne, from 26 to 30 December. Sydney will host the last game of the tour from 3 to 7 January, 2024.
The squad is set to depart from Lahore on 30 November.
Pakistan squad for Australia Tests: Shan Masood (captain), Aamir Jamal, Abdullah Shafique, Abrar Ahmed, Babar Azam, Faheem Ashraf, Hasan Ali, Imam-ul-Haq, Khurram Shahzad, Mir Hamza, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Mohammad Wasim Jnr, Noman Ali, Saim Ayub, Salman Ali Agha, Sarfaraz Ahmed (wk), Saud Shakeel and Shaheen Shah Afridi.
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