Red Bull's Max Verstappen qualifies on pole position at Japanese Grand Prix

Dutchman Max Verstappen said it was 'quite close at the end'. Credit: AP

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen stormed to pole position at the Japanese Grand Prix as his dominance in qualifying continued. The world champion has locked out the first spot on the grid this season and there was no answer to his pace at Suzuka. His time of one minute 28.197 beat Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez into second place by just 0.066 seconds, while McLaren’s Lando Norris was the best of the rest. Verstappen’s run of pole positions now stretches back to the last race of last season and he is now toasting a third pole in Japan. The Dutchman never looked like being beaten and was quickest across all three qualifying sessions – as well as Saturday morning’s final practice.

Max Verstappen (center), with Red Bull's Sergio Perez of Mexico (left) and McLaren's Lando Norris from the UK. Credit: AP

He is aiming to get back on track after retiring in Melbourne and the rest of the field will be concerned that he could drive off into the distance from the start. “It was quite close at the end,” Verstappen said of his latest pole lap. “Overall this track is sensitive with the tyres and when you want to go to the limit it doesn’t always work out but what is important is being on pole."

Verstappen added: "Overall, a very good day, a good starting position tomorrow and of course tomorrow is what counts. It is great as a team to be P1 and P2, hopefully we can keep that going tomorrow.” Carlos Sainz won in Australia last time out and will start Sunday’s race fourth for Ferrari, with the Aston Martin of Fernando Alonso fifth.

Oscar Piastri was sixth-fastest in the second McLaren, with Lewis Hamilton and George Russell down in seventh and ninth, respectively. Charles Leclerc is sandwiched between the pair, with home favourite Yuki Tsunoda rounding out the top 10. Tsunoda scraped into the final session, eliminating RB team-mate Daniel Ricciardo at the end of Q2 to the roar of the Suzuka crowd. Nico Hulkenberg, Valtteri Bottas, Alex Albon and Esteban Ocon also failed to make it through and will start 12-15th, respectively. Lance Stroll, Pierre Gasly, Kevin Magnussen, Logan Sargeant and Zhou Guanyu were knocked out in Q1.

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