Dutch driver cleared after Norris incident
Max Verstappen gave himself a great chance to retain his Formula One world title at Sunday’s Japanese Grand prix after grabbing pole in Suzuka.
The Red Bull driver topped the timesheets in qualifying with a time of 1min 29.304, just 0.010 secs ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, his nearest championship rival. Carlos Sainz was third in the other Ferrari.
Verstappen then faced a nervous wait after stewards said they would investigate an on-track incident involving the Dutchman and McLaren’s Lando Norris. Verstappen was given a reprimand but will remain in pole.
He can clinch the title on Sunday if he wins the race with the fastest lap, no matter what his rivals do.
He will also retain his crown if he wins and Leclerc is third or lower.
“I’m not thinking about it too much, just taking it day by day,” said the 25-year-old Verstappen, who has won 11 of 17 races this season.
“I think what was more important is that we’ve had a competitive car and clearly we had today in qualifying.
“I hope it’s going to be the same tomorrow in the race because we do need a perfect race to be able to win it tomorrow.”
Verstappen and Norris nearly crashed in qualifying when the Dutchman suddenly darted left. The McLaren driver was forced onto the grass to avoid hitting the Red Bull, with the championship leader muttering “unbelievable” over his team.
Verstappen later pinned the blame on Norris, saying he should have been “more respectful”.
“I don’t think anyone is trying to pass into that last chicane, so basically by trying to pass me you create that kind of problem,” said Verstappen.
Verstappen’s car lost a chunk of bodywork on his last lap after he ran wide on a section of the track and onto a kerb.
Leclerc was just a whisker away from claiming his third straight pole.
“It was a tricky one but overall the car felt good,” said the Monaco driver, who trails Verstappen by 104 points in the championship standings, having had the upper hand at the start of the season.
“The first sector feels crazy. There’s so much grip and in Q3 once you go for that last lap it really feels special. It was a fun qualifying.”
Sainz was close behind his teammate with a time of 1min 29.361sec and said he was “fed up” of missing out on pole.
“It was a good lap, clean all the way into the last chicane but it overcooked a bit heading into the last chicane and it cost me quite a bit of lap time,” said the Spaniard.
Sergio Perez, in the other Red Bull, was fourth.
Alpine’s Esteban Ocon was fifth, followed by Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, George Russell, Sebastian Vettel and Norris to round out the fastest 10.
AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly failed to make it past Q1 after an issue with his brakes.
The Frenchman, who announced earlier in the day that he will replace two-time world champion Alonso at Alpine next season, was furious.
“I feel we could have managed this situation a bit better,” Gasly told TV reporters.
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