23 September 2023

Max Verstappen pips Oscar Piastri to pole after tense qualifying for Japanese GP

23 September 2023

Max Verstappen set a blistering pace to blow away the challenge of Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris and take pole position for the Japanese Grand Prix.

Verstappen’s record 10-race winning run and Red Bull’s unbeaten season came to an end in Singapore last weekend.

The Dutchman topped all three practice sessions at Suzuka to suggest the Milton Keynes-based team had banished the issues that they experienced in the city-state.

And Verstappen was imperious around the high-speed corner circuit – where Lewis Hamilton warned the Red Bull would be “phenomenal” – taking pole by a massive 0.581 seconds ahead of Piastri.

Norris had narrowed the gap to Verstappen, who is closing in on a hat-trick of world titles, in final practice to raise hope of a challenge for pole.

But Verstappen was dominant in the final qualifying session on brand new tyres, blowing away the competition from the two McLarens.

“Incredible weekend so far, especially in qualifying when you can push it to the limit. It felt really nice,” Verstappen said on track.

“We had a bad weekend in Singapore. I felt this was going to be a good track. From lap one it has been really nice.”

Piastri, in his debut season in Formula One, had never even been to Japan before this week but got the edge on his McLaren team-mate to line up on the front row.

Red Bull will almost certainly clinch the Constructors’ Championship on Sunday at the home race of their engine supplier Honda.

Verstappen’s team-mate Sergio Perez finished fifth, over seven tenths adrift of the pace-setter.

Hamilton and George Russell were well off the pace for Mercedes, who are battling with Ferrari to finish second in the Constructors’ Championship, and will line up seventh and eighth on the grid.

Ferrari, who are running a new floor at Suzuka, took fourth via Charles Leclerc, while Singapore-winner Carlos Sainz finished sixth.

Yuki Tsunoda was confirmed by AlphaTauri to be driving alongside Daniel Ricciardo in 2024 and delighted his home crowd by making the top-10 shootout, finishing ninth.

Q1 was red-flagged with just over nine minutes remaining when Williams’ Logan Sargeant oversteered out of the final corner and slid heavily into the barriers.

The American, who is yet to be confirmed by Williams for 2024, quickly jumped out of the car and made his way across the track and back to the pit lane.

Williams Team Principal James Vowles told Sky Sports: “It is heartbreaking for Logan.”

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