Verstappen flies to Japan pole, Piastri on front row

Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing celebrates his pole position in qualifying parc ferme. 23.09.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 17, Japanese Grand Prix, Suzuka, Japan, Qualifying Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Moy / XPB Images
© XPB 

Max Verstappen was blisteringly fast in qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka, the Red Bull star finishing the session over half a second clear of the rest of the field to secure pole position

McLaren were the only significant threat, and Oscar Piastri did brilliantly to secure the remaining front row spot ahead of his team mate Lando Norris with Ferrari's Charles Leclerc consigned to fourth.

The only significant incident of the session was an accident for Williams' Logan Sargeant, who went into the barrier at the final corner early in Q1 and triggered a 13-minute stoppage.

After a humid and overcast Friday, there had been overnight rain at Suzuka washing the track clean, and for Saturday the circuit had been bathed in brilliant sunshine in time for final practice. Max Verstappen completed a clean sweep of the weekend's sessions, while McLaren's Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri had slipped ahead of Sergio Perez and Ferrari duo Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz. While pole might look all-but assured, the battle for the shotgun spot was very much alive going into qualifying.

Circuit atmosphere - fans in the grandstand.
23.09.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 17, Japanese Grand Prix, Suzuka, Japan, Qualifying Day.
-, EMail: © Copyright: Moy / XPB Images

Q1: Verstappen and Norris lead, as Sargeant crashes out

Liam Lawson and Lance Stroll had the place to themselves as they headed out on track on soft compound tyres. Lawson set the initial benchmark of 1:31.729s but by then the Red Bulls were rolling, and it was no surprise to see Verstappen fly to the top with a time of 1:29.878s proving almost two seconds quicker, his job effectively done for Q1.

Norris confirmed his practice pace by slipping into second just 0.185s behind Verstappen, with Piastri reporting for duty in third ahead of Perez and the two Mercedes of George Russell and Lewis Hamilton. Before the Ferraris could also complete flying laps, Logan Sargeant lost control and crashed into the barriers at the last corner to bring out the red flag, the Williams a bit of a wreck. The rookie took the blame, citing a 'heavy right foot' rather than blustery winds.


The session resumed with nine minutes remaining, six drivers yet to set a time after both Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon had their laps deleted for exceeding track limits. Ferrari immediately got to work in a bid to avoid traffic, Leclerc reporting in to third which split the McLarens, Sainz fifth ahead of Perez.

The top five cars now stepped aside to leave the rest of the field to fight over the scraps. There was a roar of approval from the grandstands as local hero Yuki Tsunoda went seventh, but his AlphaTauri team mate Lawson did even better and snatched fourth. Albon left it late to finally post a time but it was good enough for P12 to split the Alpines of Gasly and Esteban Ocon.

Kevin Magnussen just sneaked through to the second round but his Haas team mate Nico Hulkenberg missed the cut, as did Alfa Romeo pair Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu. Aston Martin's Lance Stroll was also eliminated, along with the stationary Sargeant.

Carlos Sainz Jr (ESP) Ferrari SF-23. 23.09.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 17, Japanese Grand Prix, Suzuka, Japan, Qualifying Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Charniaux / XPB Images

Q2: Leclerc goes top over Verstappen and Perez as Lawson narrowly misses out

Having used just one set of soft tyres in Q1, Verstappen kept the same ones for his first foray in Q2 and still managed to post a time of 1:29.964s, within a tenth of his first round time. It was half a second quicker than Leclerc could manage and over a second faster than Sainz, both also on used sets.

The McLarens has broken out a new set of softs but neither Piastri nor Norris could catch Verstappen, while Perez was fourth ahead of another fast run from Tsunoda slipping ahead of the Ferraris and both Mercedes cars. Fernando Alonso was in the drop zone along with Ocon, Gasly and Ocon while Magnussen was going for a single run and yet to set a time.

Albon improved to seventh to split the Ferraris and find temporary sanctuary, pushing Lawson out of the top ten and leaving Hamilton on the bubble. Everyone was soon heading back out on track, although Piastri was absent after being told to pull over on pit lane rather than expend another set of softs unnecessarily.

On a new set of his own, Leclerc deposed Verstappen at the top by 0.024s with Perez just a thousandth further back ahead of Hamilton and Sainz. Piastri ended up pushed down to sixth while Norris flirted with danger in ninth despite being only 0.356s off the top time. Alonso finished on the bubble, with Lawson just missing out on progressing along with Gasly, Albon, Ocon and Magnussen.

Qualifying top three in parc ferme (L to R): Oscar Piastri (AUS) McLaren, second; Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing, pole position; Lando Norris (GBR) McLaren, third.
23.09.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 17, Japanese Grand Prix, Suzuka, Japan, Qualifying Day.
-, EMail: © Copyright: Batchelor / XPB Images

Q3: Verstappen blitzes the field with Piastri on the front row

The top ten shoot-out began with an immaculate lap from Verstappen to claim provisional pole with a time of 1:29.012s. Piastri and Norris were the only drivers to get within half a second; Russell, Perez, Alonso Hamilton and Tsunoda were all well over a second behind the top Red Bull.

Ferrari were last out, having only a single set of soft tyres left at their disposal for this session. They were fast enough to slot in behind the two McLarens. However a poor lap from Piastri put pole out of the Aussie's reach even as Verstappen went even faster to cement his place at the head of tomorrow's grid.

There was a late improvement by Perez to split the Ferraris in fifth, and Hamilton pipped Russell to seventh with his final run. Tsunoda took ninth on the grid ahead of Alonso as the chequered flag came out.

Keep up to date with all the F1 news via Facebook and Twitter