Max Verstappen qualifies during the Japanese Grand Prix. (Red Bull Racing Photo)

Verstappen, Red Bull Back On Top With Suzuka Pole

A rare blunder from Max Verstappen and Oracle Red Bull Racing last week in the Singapore Grand Prix, which saw the reigning Formula One champion qualify 11th, was quickly put behind them as the Dutch driver snagged pole for Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix.

Verstappen outpaced the McLaren duo of Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris with a best time of 1:28.877 seconds in Q3 to earn his ninth pole of the season. His top time cleared the McLaren’s by over half a second, with Piastri posting a best time of 1:29.458.

“It’s been a crazy weekend so far, we’ve been on another level,” Verstappen said after his qualifying run. “The car was on the rails and I could really push it to the limit. I fully sent it today. When the car is good it makes the track feel even more special, it really bought a big smile to my face.

“I only had three sets of new tires so had to be careful with how I used them. Looking ahead to tomorrow, degradation will be high so we need to look after our tires. It won’t be straightforward that’s for sure. The aim is to win the Constructors Championship this weekend, especially on Honda’s home turf.”

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc qualified fourth with Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez rounding out the top five.

Last week’s winner in Singapore, Carlos Sainz, settled into sixth, with Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton (seventh) and George Russell (eighth) following suit. 

“We did some great work overnight and the changes we made felt good in FP3,” Hamilton said. “The car has generally felt nice to drive today. That was a relief as yesterday was a bad day. We typically have at least one suboptimal day each weekend, so Friday was likely that.”

AlphaTauri driver Yuki Tsunoda secured ninth at his home track and Fernando Alonso wheeled his Aston Martin to 10th on the grid.

“It’s incredibly special to get through to Q3 at your home grand prix,” Tsunoda said. “It was the first time in front of the Japanese fans, and the amount of support I felt in my final runs was great. I’ve never felt that kind of support from spectators. A big thank you to them, but an even bigger thanks to my team.

“It wasn’t easy because we struggled in free practice on Friday, but the team did an amazing job of finding improvements. The car was great and really fun to drive, so I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”

Haas F-1 struggled on the Suzuka Int’l Race Course, with Kevin Magnussen’s session ending in Q2 in 15th, while teammate Nico Hulkenberg qualified 18th.