‘Without Max Verstappen, Red Bull would have been second row of the grid’

Thomas Maher
Red Bull's Max Verstappen on track during qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix.

Red Bull's Max Verstappen on track during qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix.

Max Verstappen’s 1:28.8 in Q3 at Suzuka to secure pole position for the Japanese Grand Prix has been hailed as ‘one of the best in the sport’s history’.

The Dutch driver put in an imperious performance in qualifying ahead of Sunday’s race, putting a 1:29.012 on his first lap in Q3 – a time that would have been good enough for pole position in itself.

But Verstappen wasn’t done and, despite very little threat from those behind him, dug deep to put in a 1:28.8 on his second run, having been spurred on by a bit of pre-qualifying smack talk between himself and race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase.

Christian Horner: Max Verstappen lap ‘something very special’

With Verstappen’s pole advantage the largest as Suzuka since Michael Schumacher’s effort in 2004 at the wheel of the dominant Ferrari F2004, Red Bull boss Christian Horner seemed blindsided by what his driver had achieved on the second Q3 lap.

“I think what we’ve witnessed today is something very special, to be honest,” he told Sky F1.

“Just have a look at Turn 5, that first sector was absolutely mighty.”

Karun Chandhok agreed with Horner’s assessment, putting on his racing driver hat in order to analyse the near-perfection Verstappen had achieved on his pole lap.

“Honestly, I’m still breathless from watching that, because I think that was one of the greatest qualifyings that we’ve seen in F1 history,” he said.

“There’s not much left on the table – the detail with which he drove, pinching little bits on the entry to Spoon curve, 130R not using all the way…

“He thought about every metre. To me, that’s a driver who’s ahead of the car. Christian was saying that’s one of the special laps, and he’s right.”

With Sergio Perez almost eight-tenths of a second slower than Verstappen as the Mexican driver secured fifth place on the starting grid, Chandhok said it’s evident Verstappen is what elevates Red Bull into being the dominant force they are.

“If [Christian] didn’t have Max in the car, they’d be on the second row of the grid,” he summed up.

Max Verstappen explains how Q3 lap was reached

Speaking in the press conference after securing pole position, and revealing that he and Lambiase had discussed the possibility of a 1:28 laptime, the Dutch driver explained how his qualifying session came together.

“It’s always difficult to judge, but after FP3, I was like… it will be quite close [to 1:28]”, he said.

“But then, luckily, we made some tiny adjustments and I think it helped the car a little bit.

“Sector One, once you feel very confident with the car, you can push it a little bit more and that’s what happened in qualifying.”

Hailing the RB19’s handling all weekend, bouncing back from their struggles in Singapore last weekend, Verstappen was effusive about how good his car has been.

“As soon as we put the car on the track, it’s been very enjoyable to drive, very predictable, which I think is the most important,” he said.

“Lap after lap, in qualifying as well, it was getting better. I mean, I only had three new sets of tyres so I had to be a bit careful when using them basically. So, in Q2, I had to run the scrubbed [tyres].

“But then, once I put on a new set again in the first run in Q3, it was just super nice. I mean, these high-speed corners with the car are very well balanced and you can really push it to the limit – it’s just really enjoyable to drive.”

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