By Robert Haile
Max Verstappen has hit the front when it matters with his sixth pole position of the season despite a reprimand for a incident with Lando Norris during qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix.
The Dutch World Champion only needs to win with the fastest lap to take his second title at Suzuka and it is mathematically possible for him to finish sixth and become a double world champion.
For that to happen Charles Leclerc has to finish out of the top ten, scoring no points and Verstappen’s teammate, Sergio Perez has to finish ninth or lower with out the fastest lap bonus point.
Verstappen said: “It was pretty incredible to drive here again, especially in qualifying when you are on low fuel, these cars really come alive through the first sectors. I am really happy to be on pole and in general, just super happy to be back here in Japan.
“During qualifying, I lost a part of the duct from the car in my final lap so that’s why I couldn’t really improve, nevertheless the first lap was good enough.
“It will be interesting to see what the weather does tomorrow, there may be rain during the race, I am quite confident that we have a good race car so let’s see what we can do. I’m not thinking about the championship still, I’m just taking it day by day.
“The most important thing is that we have a competitive car, and we had that today in qualifying. We still need that perfect race.”
Returning to the F1 calendar after missing the last three years due to Covid the Suzuka circuit provided plenty of entertainment.
With Williams’ Nicholas Latifi sustaining a 5 place grid penalty from Singapore knowing that he would be starting near the back finished the first qualifying session in twentieth.
Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll couldn’t match his teammate Sebastian Vettel and will start nineteenth with Kevin Magnussen’s Haas in eighteenth.
The Alpine bound Pierre Gasly struggled with the brakes on his AlphaTauri has he couldn’t improve from seventeenth as Alex Albon’s Williams was the last driver eliminated in sixteenth.
In the second session Mick Schumacher continued to drive for his Haas seat with a fifteenth place in qualifying.
The Alfa Romeo’s of Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu were split by home favourite Yuki Tsunoda’s AlphaTauri in thirteenth with McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo in eleventh as he admits that he might not be on the grid next season.
The top ten shootout with only two seconds between them all with Verstappen taking pole position with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc 0.01 second behind and Carlos Sainz 0.06 behind the Dutchman.
Sergio Perez took fourth with Esteban Ocon in fifth as Alpine look to retake fourth in the constructors championship as Lewis Hamilton finish sixth, Alpine’s Fernando Alonso seventh and George Russell in eighth for Mercedes.
In his Japanese Formula 1 swan song Sebastian Vettel will start in ninth as Lando Norris rounded out the top ten.
The new regulations will get another test and with wet weather a possibility anything could happen.
Japanese Grand Prix Qualifying
- Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
- Charles Leclerc (Ferrari)
- Carlos Sainz (Ferrari)
- Sergio Perez (Red Bull)
- Esteban Ocon (Alpine)
- Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
- Fernando Alonso (Alpine)
- George Russell (Mercedes)
- Sebastian Vettel (Aston Marin)
- Lando Norris (McLaren)
- Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren)
- Vallteri Bottas (Alfa Romeo)
- Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri)
- Zhou Guanyu (Alfa Romeo)
- Mick Schumacher (Haas)
- Alex Albon (Williams)
- Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri)
- Kevin Magnussen (Haas)
- Lance Stroll (Aston Martin)
- Nicholas Latifi (Williams)