Max Verstappen claimed an imperious pole position at Suzuka for the second-consecutive year, as the Dutchman again emerged as the class of the Formula 1 field.
Red Bull and Max Verstappen sought to return to the top of the pile after a rare blip for the team at the Singapore Grand Prix last weekend. After practice, Verstappen established himself as the pacesetter, although both McLaren drivers looked a threat.
The Dutchman maintained his advantage in the early stages of Q1. With the benchmark set at 1:29.878, Verstappen was 0.185s clear of Lando Norris until the session was stopped after a heavy crash for Logan Sargeant.
The Williams driver was unable to hold a snap in the final corner, sending him into the grass before a sizeable impact with the barriers.
At the time of the crash, Sargeant was one of many yet to set a lap time. With nine minutes left on the clock, both Ferrari drivers were left without a time along with Alex Albon and Pierre Gasly who both had laps deleted.
Off the back of a race win, the Ferraris would not look to be a contender for pole with Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz initially five-tenths and seven-tenths of a second slower than Verstappen respectively.
Alex Albon’s sole lap time was enough to push Valtteri Bottas into the elimination zone. Lance Stroll, Nico Hulkenberg and Guanyu Zhou were also eliminated along with Sargeant following his crash.
Oscar Piastri emerged as Verstappen’s closest challenger early in Q2. The Kiwi, on his maiden visit to Suzuka, matched the championship leader in sectors one and two, dropping 0.15s in the final sector.
McLaren would then instruct Piastri to stop in the pitlane, believing he would be safe with his existing lap time. Verstappen and third-placed Perez would also not run again.
Vaulting from the bottom five, Lewis Hamilton jumped to third with his final attempt while an improvement from team-mate George Russell saw Liam Lawson eliminated in 11th.
Charles Leclerc was able to edge Verstappen by 0.024s to top Q1, with Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez just 0.001s slower than the championship leader. The Mexican had been some margin slower than Verstappen all weekend to that point.
Pierre Gasly was unable to improve on 12th while Albon was also knocked out in 13th after completing his final attempt earlier than the rest of the field. The second Alpine of Esteban Ocon was also eliminated alongside Kevin Magnussen.
Heading into Q3, Verstappen remained the obvious contender for pole although as he and the two McLarens had all saved a fresh set of softs at the end of Q2.
Verstappen’s first lap in Q3 was imperious, clocking a 1:29.012 – a time some 1.4s faster than Sergio Perez on used tyres. The McLaren drivers, also on new tyres, remained Verstappen’s closest threat although four-tenths adrift.
Verstappen’s final attempt saw three more purple sectors as he improved to a 1:28.877. The benchmark would not be beaten as Verstappen claimed another inevitable pole position. The two-time champion will share the front row with Piastri as both McLaren drivers failed to improve.
Norris held onto third as Charles Leclerc was able to climb to fourth, The Monegasque driver outqualifies Carlos Sainz after a strong run of form for the Spaniard who qualified sixth as Sergio Perez split the Ferrari pair. Perez was outclassed by Verstappen who found a massive 0.773s on his team-mate.
Hamilton and Russell will share the fourth row of the grid. Yuki Tsunoda and Fernando Alonso complete the top ten.
The Japanese Grand Prix gets underway at 14:00 local time on Sunday.