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Max Verstappen took one step closer to a second World Drivers’ championship title by claiming pole position for the Japanese Grand Prix one hundredth of a second ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz. However, the Dutchman, who can wrap up a second F1 title at Suzuka if wins the race and claims fastest lap, was facing a stewards’ investigation after qualifying due to a Q3 incident involving McLaren’s Lando Norris.
The incident occurred on the in lap following Verstappen’s first run. The Dutchman was running slowly and appeared to have a slide, just as Lando Norris was coming up quickly on a hot lap. The McLaren driver went onto the grass, with Max calling the moment “unbelievable”. Race control soon flashed up the message that the incident would be investigated after the session.
“I was just driving quite slow and I wanted to accelerate but my tyres were quite cold,” said Verstappen. “So I had a big moment. And then of course, Lando was trying to pass me at the same time, so he had to avoid me a little bit, but luckily, nothing happened.”
Verstappen was in the mix for pole right from the start of Q1 and with purple times in every sector of his first flying lap the Red Bull driver jumped to the top of the order with a lap of 1:30.224. Sergio Pérez slotted into second place, four tenths of a second off his Red Bull team-mate but the Mexican was pushed back to fifth place as Sainz moved to second, ahead of Leclerc and Alpine’s Fernando Alonso settled into fourth place.
The top five elected to stay in their garages for the final runs, after which Alex Albon was the first driver eliminated in 16th place. The Williams driver finished just over five hundredths of a second behind Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel. Also ruled out at the end of Q1 were AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly, who complained of brake issues on his way to P17, Haas’ Kevin Magnussen, Aston’s Lance Stroll and the second Williams of Nicholas Latifi.
Sainz claimed an early top spot in Q2 thanks to a lap of 1:30.444 but his time was soon beaten by Verstappen who went purple in the final sector to take P1 with a lap of 1:30.346, with Leclerc third. Ocon managed to go fourth as Hamilton slotted into fifth ahead of Alonso and Norris. Pérez, though, struggled on his used softs and could only manage P8 ahead of Russell and Vettel.
The Mexican found plenty of time on a second run on new softs however and he posted a time of 1:29.925 to take top spot in the session ahead of Alonso who jumped to P2. Verstappen comfortably progressed tP3 after staying in his garage for the final runs. Ocon took fourth place ahead of Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton. Sainz went through in P6, while Leclerc finished in P9.
Eliminated at the end of Q2 were McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo, just 0.003s behind Vettel who once again squeaked into the following session. Ruled out behind Ricciardo were Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas, AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda, the second Alfa of Zhou Guanyu and Haas’ Mick Schumacher.
Verstappen seized control at the start of Q3, with the Dutchman taking P1 on a time of 1:29.304. That put him 0.253s clear of Leclerc with Sainz 0.145s further back in third place. Pérez’s opening lap of 1:29.994 put him fourth ahead of Alonso and Vettel.
On Verstappen’s slow down lap, though, came the incident with Norris. “I was on very cold tyres, so I had like a little moment and that’s why he had to drive around me,” Verstappen added. “But you know, if you’re just a bit more respectful then everyone is anyway already lining up. I don’t think anyone is trying to pass into that last chicane. So basically, by trying to pass me you create that kind of problem.”
In the final runs, Leclerc looked on course to challenge Verstappen’s opening time as he went purple in the middle sector. However, the Ferrari driver lost time in the final sector and crossed the line one hundredth of a second behind Max.
That was enough to hand Max his fifth pole of the season and his 18th overall, a good result especially in light of the Dutchman losing part of a floor duct as he rode a kerb on his slower final flying lap.
Behind the top four of Verstappen, Leclerc, Sainz and Pérez, Ocon qualified in fifth place ahead of Hamilton and Alonso. Russell will start in eighth place ahead of Vettel and Norris.
2022 FIA Formula 1 Japanese Grand Prix – Qualifying
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing 1:29.304
2 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:29.314 0.010
3 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 1:29.361 0.057
4 Sergio Perez Red Bull Rcaing 1:29.709 0.405
5 Esteban Ocon Alpine 1:30.165 0.861
6 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:30.261 0.95
7 Fernando Alonso Alpine 1:30.322 1.018
8 George Russell Mercedes 1:30.389 1.085
9 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin 1:30.554 1.250
10 Lando Norris McLaren 1:31.003 1.699
11 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren 1:30.659 1.355
12 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo 1:30.709 1.405
13 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 1:30.808 1.504
14 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo 1:30.953 1.649
15 Mick Schumacher Haas 1:31.439 2.135
16 Alex Albon Williams 1:31.311 2.007
17 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri 1:31.322 2.018
18 Kevin Magnussen Haas 1:31.352 2.048
19 Lance Stroll Aston Martin 1:31.419 2.115
20 Nicholas Latifi Williams 1:31.511 2.207
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