Max Verstappen boosted his hopes of clinching the 2022 Formula 1 title by qualifying on pole position for the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka.
The Red Bull driver, who can seal the crown on Sunday, edged Ferrari duo Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz to top spot in a tight Q3, and avoided a grid penalty after being summoned by the stewards following a scary incident with McLaren’s Lando Norris.
Verstappen’s team-mate Sergio Perez was fourth ahead of Alpine’s Esteban Ocon, while Mercedes pair Lewis Hamilton and George Russell struggled to the sixth and eighth fastest times.
Following the wet conditions experienced during Friday’s two practice sessions, Saturday’s action took place in the dry.
Verstappen led the way in Q1, his 1m30.224s effort putting him 0.112s clear of Sainz. Leclerc was close behind in third.
Both AlphaTauri drivers returned to the pits early on with brake problems. Yuki Tsunoda returned to track and posted the 12th quickest time late on to make it into Q2. But team-mate Pierre Gasly ended up 17th.
Alfa Romeo’s Guanyu Zhou and Haas driver Mick Schumacher both made late improvements to make it through, eliminating both Gasly and Williams’ Alexander Albon, who missed out by a slender 0.055s.
- Alexander Albon, Williams
- Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri
- Kevin Magnussen, Haas
- Lance Stroll, Aston Martin
- Nicolas Latifi, Williams
Sainz recorded an early lap of 1m30.444s to head team-mate Leclerc by 0.042s. Verstappen then posted a 1m30.346s to move ahead of the pair. But he was beaten late on by Perez, who ended up quickest with a 1m30.622s. Alpine’s Fernando Alonso also pipped the Dutchman to second.
Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel set the 10th fastest time to make it into Q3, with McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo missing out by 0.003s. Joining the Australian in being eliminated were Valtteri Bottas (Alfa), Tsunoda, Zhou and Schumacher.
- Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren
- Valtteri Bottas, Alfa Romeo
- Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri
- Guanyu Zhou, Alfa Romeo
- Mick Schumacher, Haas
The pole-position shootout started with an alarming near-miss as drivers completed their outlaps. Warming his tyres while driving slowly out of 130R, Verstappen inadvertently jinked to the left into the path of the much-faster Norris, forcing the McLaren driver to swerve onto the grass in avoidance.
While the incident was referred to the stewards for investigation after the session, Verstappen set a 1m29.304s to move ahead of Leclerc by 0.253s.
Leclerc improved on his second run, but ended up 0.010s shy of pole. Verstappen had a wild moment on a kerb on his final flier, losing some bodywork in the process.
Sainz and Perez remained in third and fourth, despite both improving on their final efforts.
Ocon was best of the rest in fifth, with his team-mate Alonso sandwiched between Hamilton and Russell in seventh. Vettel qualified ninth ahead of Norris.
Verstappen was later handed a reprimand by the stewards for the Norris incident, but kept his pole position.
- Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing 1m29.304s
- Charles Leclerc, Ferrari +0.010s
- Carlos Sainz, Ferrari +0.057s
- Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing +0.405s
- Esteban Ocon, Alpine +0.861s
- Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes +0.957s
- Fernando Alonso, Alpine +1.018s
- George Russell, Mercedes +1.085s
- Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin +1.250s
- Lando Norris, McLaren +1.699s
Featured image credit: formula1.com