SUZUKA, Japan (AP) — Max Verstappen’s record-breaking dominance in Formula 1 resumed Sunday with his victory in the Japanese Grand Prix, leading almost the entire race on a sunny day in central Japan.

His abrupt breakdown two weeks ago in Melbourne, Australia, looks like a blip in his total command over F1. He was out on the fourth lap when he rear brakes caught fire.

Nothing like that this time.

Verstappen basically led from start to finish except for falling back briefly after a pit stop. He was followed across the finish line by Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez — 12.5 seconds behind — and Carlos Sainz of Ferrari. Sainz was 20 seconds off the pace.

The three-time defending F1 champion is again this season’s points leader and now has won 22 of the last 26 races dating from the start of the 2023 season. Only two other drivers have won in that span — Red Bull teammate Perez and Sainz, the winner in Australia two weeks ago.

“That was a very lovely race,” Verstappen said on the team radio just after crossing the line.

A red flag went up just seconds into the tightly packed first lap when Alex Albon and Daniel Ricciardo clipped each other on the second turn and sent both crashing out of the race.

Both drivers walked away, apparenly without serious injuries. The restart was delayed 30 minutes to get the cars off the track and clear debris.

The race was run under sunny skies in the midst of the cherry blossom season across the Japanese archipelago. The Suzuka track was built by Honda, which powers Red Bull, and is still run by the Japanese car builder. It’s set southwest of Nagoya, Japan’s fourth largest city, in a center of heavy industry.

Verstappen, 26, put down rumors early this week that he might leave Red Bull, maybe for Mercedes.

“From my side, I’m very happy where I am. And, yeah, we want to keep it that way.” He even hinted at an early retirement.

“I have a contract with Red Bull until ’28,” he said. “After that, I first want to see if I actually even want to continue. That’s for me the most important.”

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AP Formula 1: https://apnews.com/hub/formula-one