Suzuka, Japan, September 23 (Reuters) — Formula One drivers’ championship leader Max Verstappen cleared up all doubts about Red Bull’s dominance on Saturday with a “powerful” pole in Japan ahead of the McLarens. by Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris.
The 25-year-old Dutch driver had been the fastest in the three practice sessions at Suzuka and saved his best for qualifying, lapping with a final effort of one minute and 28.877 seconds.
The Australian debutant Piastri accompanied him on the front row, but was 0.581 seconds behind the Dutchman’s time.
Verstappen, whose record run of 10 consecutive wins ended in Singapore last weekend when he finished fifth, was the only driver to lap 1:28s and said it had been an incredible weekend so far.
“We had, of course, a bad weekend in Singapore, but I already felt from the preparation we had that this was going to be a good track,” he said.
“You never really know how good it’s going to be, but from the first lap it’s been very, very nice (…) being on pole here is fantastic.”
The Red Bull team is set to secure the constructors’ title on Sunday for the second year in a row, although Verstappen will have to wait for his third drivers’ crown.
Red Bull boss Christian Horner marveled at what he saw. “I think what we’ve witnessed today is something very special,” he told Sky Sports television.
“That first sector was absolutely powerful. That first lap seemed like enough to do the job, but then he went faster again. All his laps have been impressive today (…) it was an absolutely mind-blowing performance.”
Piastri said he could have done a better job in the final chicane, but it had been a good weekend with an updated McLaren.
“It’s the first time I’ve started on the front row for a while, it will be great,” said the 22-year-old, who sat last season as Alpine’s reserve after winning the 2021 Formula Two title.
“There’s only one car ahead to try to overtake, so I’ll try to make it that way.”
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc qualified fourth, followed by Mexican Sergio Pérez, Verstappen’s teammate and his closest rival in the fight for the title, but 151 points behind after 15 of 22 races.
Carlos Sainz, winner in Singapore, will start sixth with Ferrari ahead of Lewis Hamilton and George Russell.
Yuki Tsunoda delighted his home fans with ninth place on the grid for AlphaTauri and Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso completed the top 10 of the qualifiers.
Leclerc was the fastest in the second phase, ahead of Verstappen, who was on soft tires and decided that a single fast lap was enough.
American debutant Logan Sargeant crashed his Williams in the first period, causing red flags with nine minutes remaining.
It was the second time in four races that the 22-year-old, who has yet to score points and whose future is uncertain, crashed in the qualifying session.
Sargeant’s seat is now the only one on the grid still potentially available for 2024 after AlphaTauri confirmed a line-up with Tsunoda and Australian Daniel Ricciardo on Saturday.
New Zealander Liam Lawson, replacing the injured Ricciardo in a fourth race, qualified 11th.
NA 09-23-23 13:51:26
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