Red Bull’s Max Verstappen put in a stunning performance to set pole position for the Japanese Grand Prix.
The Dutchman was a massive 0.581 seconds clear of the impressive Oscar Piastri in second, 0.035secs ahead of McLaren team-mate Lando Norris.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was fourth, ahead of Red Bull’s Sergio Perez, who was 0.773secs slower than Verstappen.
Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz was sixth, ahead of Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and George Russell.
Alpha Tauri’s Yuki Tsunoda earned a cheer from the local fans with ninth place, ahead of the Aston Martin of Fernando Alonso.
Verstappen came to Suzuka expecting to return to form after his record run of 10 consecutive victories was ended in Singapore, as well as Red Bull’s clean sweep of the season so far.
His rivals said that, everything being normal, Red Bull would dominate in Japan, and so it has proved.
The 25-year-old topped all three practice sessions and all three parts of qualifying. He will surely take his 13th victory in 16 races on Sunday if he has a problem-free race.
“Incredible weekend so far and especially in qualifying when you can really push it to the limit, the car felt really nice,” Verstappen said.
“We had a bad weekend in Singapore but I already felt from the preparation we had that this was going to be a good track.
“You never know how good it is going to be but from lap one it has felt really nice and to be on pole is fantastic.”
Piastri excelled on his first visit to Suzuka, renowned as the most challenging and rewarding circuit on the calendar, and pipping Norris at such a venue underlines why McLaren extended his contract to the end of 2026, a new deal announced on Thursday before the weekend.
He went second fastest on his first run but failed to improve on his second, admitting to making mistakes in the second and third sectors after improving in the first.
Piastri, who was last on the front row for the sprint race at the Belgian Grand Prix, said: “It has been a really good weekend for the team so far. We have some upgrades on the car, happy to be second and third.
“First time I have started on the front row for a while. It will be cool. Only one car to overtake and I will try to make that happen.”
Norris said: “A great job by Oscar today and as usual by Max. I was pretty happy with my laps. It is not easy to put everything together around here. The smallest mistake and it can mean a big amount of lap time.”
The three drivers were well clear of the field – Verstappen was 0.240 seconds ahead of the McLarens with Sergio Perez’s Red Bull 0.5secs further back.
After a difficult three races, in which he has been beaten by Sainz, Leclerc won the internal Ferrari battle convincingly in Japan, ending up 0.308secs ahead of the Spaniard.
Ferrari have a new floor on the car this weekend, and it has helped calm the car’s inconsistency, which in turn has allowed Leclerc to set it up with more oversteer than it could cope with in recent races, bringing the car back to his normal driving style.
However he faces an investigation for exceeding the minimum out-lap time.
Perez managed to split the Ferraris but his deficit to Verstappen was humbling for the Mexican.
It has proved a difficult weekend for Mercedes, the car’s weakness in high-speed corners exposed, and Hamilton was a second slower than his 2021 title rival, but managed to end Russell’s run of form and beat the younger man by 0.311secs.
Towards the back, Logan Sargeant did his hopes of staying at Williams next year no good at all by crashing at the end of his first lap in the first session out of the last corner.
The car snapped under power and then spun into the wall, bringing out a red flag.
Sergeant admitted the crash had been caused by “a heavy right foot”. Amid speculation that he could be replaced by Liam Lawson, who has impressed for Alpha Tauri as a stand-in for the injured Daniel Ricciardo, he said: “These mistakes are killing me, but it is what it is.”
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