Aston Martin’s struggles, McLaren’s rise, and more storylines for the Japanese Grand Prix

Sunday’s Singapore Grand Prix gave Formula 1 fans something they have missed this season.


With Red Bull struggling all weekend long at Marina Bay, the door was open for excitement — and some new names — at the front of the field. Through that door burst Carlos Sainz Jr., Lando Norris, George Russell, and Lewis Hamilton, who provided fans with a thrilling finish complete with all the drama the bulk of the season had been lacking.

That finish also helped bring some energy to the storylines that await the field as we look ahead to this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix.

Ongoing speculation over the AlphaTauri 2024 lineup

The ongoing speculation over AlphaTauri’s 2024 lineup took another turn in Singapore. For the second straight week, Yuki Tsunoda failed to finish when his AT04 suffered a failure, but unlike the Italian Grand Prix where he underwent a failure on the formation lap, Tsunoda at least got to start the race.

But he could not complete that first lap.

As he watched, new teammate Liam Lawson — who bounced Max Verstappen out of Q3 on Saturday — scored his first F1 points, with a ninth-place finish. That it came in just his third race, and at a track he had never experienced before, just adds to the impressive nature of his finish.

In just three races Lawson has almost matched Tsunoda’s points total on the season — three points to two — and he has demonstrated that he is ready for a full-time seat. Should AlphaTauri/Red Bull decide that Lawson has earned a spot for 2024, that leaves Tsunoda and Daniel Ricciardo vying for the other spot.

Perhaps the team decides to keep AlphaTauri as a more junior program, opening the door for a Tsunoda/Lawson pairing for 2024 with Ricciardo the odd driver out. But when the move was made to replace Nyck de Vries with Ricciardo, there were rumblings that the organization was thinking of a shift to a veteran/emerging talent pairing for the future.

That, at least at the moment, feels like a Ricciardo/Lawson pairing.

Where might that leave Tsunoda? Perhaps as a reserve with Red Bull, or maybe an opportunity arises at Williams should they decide not to forge ahead with Logan Sargeant in 2024.

There is also speculation that down the road, when Aston Martin begins their engine partnership with Honda for the 2026 campaign, Tsunoda will move into one of those spots.

Still, the speculation over AlphaTauri’s 2024 lineup remains one of the big stories to monitor for the rest of the season.

The battles for second

Thanks to Sunday’s results, Verstappen cannot clinch the Drivers’ Championship this weekend — more on that in a moment — and Red Bull’s slim chance of clinching the title in Singapore fell by the wayside.

However, we know that it is just a matter of when, not if, those events happen.

That means the big battles remaining are for second, in both the Drivers’ and the Constructors’. The tightest battle is to be found in the fight for the Constructors’ Championship, and Ferrari’s strong weekend in Singapore has made that a true scrap.

At the moment, Mercedes sits second in the Constructors’ Championship with 289 points. Ferrari, thanks to Sainz’s win and a fourth-place finish from Charles Leclerc, banked 37 points down in Marina Bay, and they enter the Japanese Grand Prix with 265 points on the season, just 34 points behind.

If you are wondering, another weekend like Singapore would see Ferrari close to within just three points of Mercedes, 305 to 302.

Obviously, there is a long way to go before that kind of narrow margin presents itself, but the point is, Ferrari can really make this close at the Japanese Grand Prix. In this fight, every point is going to count.

As for the fight for second place in the Drivers’ standings, Hamilton’s podium in Singapore, coupled with a points-less result for Fernando Alonso, has pulled the Mercedes driver into third place behind Verstappen and Sergio Pérez. Pérez has 223 points on the season, coupled with 180 for Hamilton, but Hamilton was 55 points back prior to Singapore. Having made up 12 points in one weekend, there is more than enough time for Hamilton to close the gap further, starting this weekend.

What is happening at Aston Martin?

Singapore was a disaster for Aston Martin.

On Saturday, Lance Stroll crashed out of the first qualifying session, in a rather dramatic fashion. The Aston Martin driver hit the barrier at the final turn on the circuit at a high rate of speed, decimating his car and ending his weekend. The team decided not to start Stroll in the Grand Prix, noting that he was still rather sore after the impact.

Then on Sunday, Fernando Alonso turned in a rather uncharacteristic performance, thanks in part to a five-second penalty he was given due to crossing the white line too early while entering pit lane. Then later in the race when he came in for a pit stop, the team struggled with his right rear tyre, adding even more time as he was serving the five-second penalty during that stop.

The result? Alonso finished out of the points, and Aston Martin not only saw Ferrari pull further ahead of them in the standings, but Alonso saw Hamilton overtake him in the Drivers’ standings.

Making matters worse for the team? Aston Martin thought Singapore was going to be a circuit that suited the AMR23. “I think we all expected a strong weekend in Singapore, it was not the case,” said Alonso following the race. “We didn’t have the pace that we were hoping for. Too many things [went wrong]: a mistake going into the pit lane, a sloppy stop, traffic all in one race. So a race to forget.”

Aston Martin were the darlings of the early season. But those visions of a finish near the top of the table — as well as a second-place finish for Alonso — seem to be fading. Now instead of looking in front of them, they might need to look in their rear-view mirrors …

And can McLaren catch them?

… where they will see a lot of papaya.

That’s right, thanks to a stunning Sunday from McLaren, they have closed to within 78 points of Aston Martin. While that might still seem like an insurmountable lead, consider this: Following the Canadian Grand Prix in June, Aston Martin had 154 points on the season, while McLaren had just 17 to their credit.

However, if you look at this graph from Formula1Points, you can see just how much McLaren has closed the gap to Aston Martin since then:

Screenshot 2023 09 19 at 7.43.37 AM

That 137-point gap has been cut nearly in half, and if Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri put together another weekend as they did in Marina Bay — banking 24 points — while Aston Martin struggles again, McLaren will close that gap even further.

It seemed unimaginable weeks ago, but McLaren catching Aston Martin does not seem impossible now.

So, is this the week where Verstappen and Red Bull clinch?

As for the Drivers’ Championship, Verstappen’s struggles in Singapore (if you can truly call a fifth-place finish a struggle) means it is no longer possible for him to clinch the title in Japan. Verstappen currently has a 151-point lead over Pérez, but he cannot mathematically clinch in Japan.

Here’s why.

The maximum amount of points available to an individual driver during a traditional grand prix weekend is 26: 25 points for the win, and one additional point for the fastest lap.

On Sprint Race weekends, that 26 goes up to 34, as the winner of the Sprint Race receives eight points.

There are seven races left and three of those are sprint races: Qatar, United States, and Brazil. That means the maximum amount of points a driver can secure down the stretch is 206.

With Verstappen sitting on 374 points, and Pérez with 223, should Verstappen win in Japan with the fastest lap — and Pérez fail to score — Verstappen would bring his total to 400, 177 points ahead of his teammate.

But following Japan, the maximum number of points available to an individual driver would be 180, meaning Pérez would still be mathematically alive in this scenario when the F1 Sprint in Qatar began.

In all likelihood, Verstappen has to wait until the Qatar Grand Prix to officially clinch his third straight title.

As for Red Bull’s chances of clinching the Constructors’ Championship, they entered the Singapore Grand Prix with a chance to clinch. However, their struggles have left the door ever-so-slightly ajar for Mercedes and Ferrari.

However, Red Bull can clinch the title in Japan. Here’s how.

First, following the Japanese Grand Prix, the maximum amount of points available to a team over the remaining races would be 309. That means Red Bull needs a lead of at least that amount over both Mercedes and Ferrari to secure the title this weekend.

Red Bull enters the Japanese Grand Prix with 597 points, 308 points ahead of Mercedes (who have 289 on the season) and 332 points ahead of Ferrari (who enter this week with 265 points).

To wrap things up in Japan, Red Bull first needs to outscore Mercedes by one point. That would eliminate Mercedes from contention. Next, Ferrari cannot outscore them by 24 points.

If both those things happen, Red Bull puts both hands on the trophy this weekend.

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