Verstappen takes pole as Red Bull lock out front row in Japan

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F1 Grand Prix, GP Japan, Circuit Suzukajp

The Red Bulls were again the class of the field in qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix. As Max Verstappen was consistently fastest in every session, Sergio Perez ended up a close second at just 0.066s. McLaren's Norris was the closest challenger and will start from 3rd on tomorrow's starting grid.

After a somewhat troublesome session for Ferrari, the Scuderia was surely eager to bounce back during qualifying. They didn't deviate from their usual plan though and it was Haas who were first to send out their drivers. The Williams drivers soon followed suit with the duo again made wary of the fact there is no spare chassis if they crash and damage their cars.

After those made fairly quiet runs and benefited from a calm track the usual queue formed at the end of the pitlane as suddenly everybody wanted to take to the track at the same time about 3 minutes into the session.

When the times rolled in it was again Verstappen who emerged fastest straight out of the box. The Dutchman had nearly 4 tenths in hand over Alonso and Perez. Piastri posted 4th, then Sainz and Norris.

Leclerc was initially only 10th so he was forced to return to the track at the end of the session while the top 9 at that time calmly stayed in the pits. Leclerc improved to 4th and also Bottas shot up into 8th place to comfortably escape from the danger zone.

As Ricciardo and Tsunoda also moved up and Ocon secured his spot in Q2, Lance Stroll failed to make it, dropping out in 16th. Gasly endd up 17th as he complained of being unable to get on the throttle early enough out of corners. Magnussen, Sargeant and Zhou joined them and would not return in Q2.

The second session saw Perez do much better and nearly matching Verstappen on the first lap. The Red Bulls were also the first cars who set a time on the board with Piastri and Hulkenberg next up the road. As Hulkenberg had his time delete for exceeding track limits, Albon was still sitting in the pits, waiting to go out when the track became quiet.

Most drivers who then returned to the track for another lap later in the session managed to improve on their earlier times. Hamilton notably set the third fastest time, only 0.147s slower than pace setter Verstappen, pushing Norris and Alonso down to 4thand 5th. The Ferrari duo easily made it through and it was eventually Tsunoda who ended up 10th, ousting his own team mate by 0.055s.

The final part saw Verstappen once again go fastest after Hamilton set the initial benchmark. Lando Norris posted the second best time, a quarter of a second behind the leading Red bull. Perez slotted into third and Sainz fourth.

After these first laps Hamilton was 6th and Alonso 8th while Leclerc ended up in between these previous Championships with a lap done when the track had gone quiet.

Perez in the end improved to challenge for pole but stranded at 0.066s off his team mate as the Red Bulls again secured a front row start. Norris is to start from third, followed by Sainz and Alonso in fifth.