Japanese GP: Max Verstappen’s qualifying dominance continues with a P1 in Suzuka

Michelle Foster
Max Verstappen checks his RB20's rear left tyre.

Max Verstappen will start the Japanese GP from pole position.

Max Verstappen’s run of pole positions continued at the Suzuka circuit on Saturday as he set the pace in qualifying ahead of Sergio Perez for a Red Bull 1-2.

Up on last year’s pole position even in Q1, the reigning World Champion dominated as he topped the timesheets in every session, eventually grabbing pole with a 1:28.197.

A tale of team-mates with a lot at Stake

Red Bull headed into qualifying as the team to beat after their 1-2 that was led by Verstappen in final practice.

The Dutchman continued to deliver in Q1 as he clocked a 1:28.8, a time that was marginally quicker than last year’s pole position, as his opening gambit. That put him ahead of Fernando Alonso and Perez.

With at least eight drivers potentially in trouble with a 1:30 flat forecast as the time needed to progress to Q2, the pit lane saw a flurry of activity – and traffic – as the drivers squabbled for position.

Verstappen’s time, 0.388s ahead of Alonso, went unbeaten while Lance Stroll in the other upgraded Aston Martin, Pierre Gasly, Kevin Magnussen, Logan Sargeant and Zhou Guanyu all fell at the first hurdle.

While Zhou complained about “sliding all over the place”, his team-mate Valtteri Bottas progressed with an impressive P8 time. Alpine also had mixed fortunes with Esteban Ocon celebrating his progress through to Q2 in 13th place.

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Verstappen was again one of the first to post a time in Q2, the reigning World Champion shaving a tenth off his Q1 best to sit at the top of the timesheet by 0.012s ahead of Perez.

Lando Norris lined up behind them while Nico Hulkenberg lost his lap time for exceeding track limits at Turn 13, putting him in the drop zone along with Alex Albon, who opted not to put in an early run, amongst others. Carlos Sainz, P5, reported a “soft” throttle pedal.

With new soft tyres on his W15, Lewis Hamilton moved up to third place to sit behind the Red Bulls. The drivers out after Q2 were Daniel Ricciardo, Hulkenberg, Bottas, Albon and Ocon.

Ricciardo was booted out of qualifying by his team-mate Yuki Tsunoda, who pipped him to P10 by 0.055s.

Max Verstappen continues his 2024 pole position run in Suzuka

Neither Tsunoda nor Charles Leclerc joined the rest of the top ten in putting in an opening salvo in Q3 given both had just one fresh set of soft tyres at their disposal.

Verstappen again went even quicker than he had in the previous session as he laid down a 1:28.240 to sit on provisional pole ahead of Norris and Perez. Hamilton, down in sixth place, was told he was half a second to Verstappen. He replied: “Where’s that half a second, man!”

Leclerc ventured out for his one flying lap on an empty track but his time was only good enough for provisional seventh. “That’s the best I can do. Honestly, I don’t get it,” he told the team.

As the rest of the top ten did their final flying lap of qualifying, Verstappen went purple in the first sector, green in the second, but had a poor third sector by his standards. He still upped his overall time to a 1:28.197 to take pole position by 0.066s ahead of Perez.

Norris qualified third ahead of Sainz, Alonso and Piastri with Hamilton, Leclerc, George Russell and Tsunoda completing the top ten.

Times

1 Max VERSTAPPEN 1:28.197
2 Sergio PEREZ +0.066
3 Lando NORRIS +0.292
4 Carlos SAINZ +0.485
5 Fernando ALONSO +0.489
6 Oscar PIASTRI +0.563
7 Lewis HAMILTON +0.569
8 Charles LECLERC +0.589
9 George RUSSELL +0.811
10 Yuki TSUNODA +1.216
11 Daniel RICCIARDO 1:29.472
12 Nico HULKENBERG 1:29.494
13 Valtteri BOTTAS 1:29.593
14 Alexander ALBON 1:29.714
15 Esteban OCON 1:29.816
16 Lance STROLL 1:30.024
17 Pierre GASLY 1:30.119
18 Kevin MAGNUSSEN 1:30.131
19 Logan SARGEANT 1:30.139
20 Guanyu ZHOU 1:30.811

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