Japanese GP Qualifying: Max Verstappen takes and keeps pole position after reprimand for Lando Norris incident

Japanese GP Qualifying: Max Verstappen takes and keeps pole position after reprimand for Lando Norris incident

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McLaren’s Lando Norris somehow managed to avoid a crash with Max Verstappen during the final part of qualifying at Suzuka

McLaren’s Lando Norris somehow managed to avoid a crash with Max Verstappen during the final part of qualifying at Suzuka

Max Verstappen has a great chance of sealing his second world championship at the Japanese GP after pipping Charles Leclerc for pole position – and keeping top spot following a post-qualifying investigation.

Verstappen was summoned by the stewards after a fascinatingly close shootout for inadvertently turning in on Lando Norris on their first Q3 out-laps and nearly creating a huge collision, but was only handed a reprimand.

That means he stays on pole, which he claimed by just 0.010s ahead of Charles Leclerc, and he can seal his second crown at Suzuka by outscoring his rival by eight points in Sunday’s race, live on Sky Sports F1 at 6am.

Red Bull's Max Verstappen took pole for the Japanese Grand Prix but then faced an investigation for an incident with Lando Norris

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Red Bull’s Max Verstappen took pole for the Japanese Grand Prix but then faced an investigation for an incident with Lando Norris

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen took pole for the Japanese Grand Prix but then faced an investigation for an incident with Lando Norris

Leclerc finished agonizingly off Verstappen in qualifying, with team-mate Carlos Sainz also within a tenth, and though Verstappen did not improve on his final lap he still took pole with a 1:29.304.

Sergio Perez was fourth in the other Red Bull, while Esteban Ocon beat both Mercedes.

Lewis Hamilton was the lead Silver Arrow in sixth, with George Russell only eighth as the team, down on top speed, failed to replicate their pace from Friday in the wet weather, which could be back for Sunday’s race.

Karun Chandhok was at the SkyPad to analyze if Red Bull's Max Verstappen impeded McLaren's Lando Norris in Japan Grand Prix qualifying

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Karun Chandhok was at the SkyPad to analyze if Red Bull’s Max Verstappen impeded McLaren’s Lando Norris in Japan Grand Prix qualifying

Karun Chandhok was at the SkyPad to analyze if Red Bull’s Max Verstappen impeded McLaren’s Lando Norris in Japan Grand Prix qualifying

Norris, miffed about Verstappen’s actions, was only 10th for McLaren, behind Sebastian Vettel on an emotional and impressive last appearance at his favorite track.

Japanese GP Qualifying Results
1) Max Verstappen, Red Bull
2) Charles Leclerc, Ferrari
3) Carlos Sainz, Ferrari
4) Sergio Perez, Red Bull
5) Esteban Ocon, Alpine
6) Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
7) Fernando Alonso, Alpine
8) George Russell, Mercedes
9) Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin
10) Lando Norris, McLaren

Norris: Verstappen deserved penalty | Max: He should be more ‘respectful’

Verstappen, in dominant form, appeared well on his way to pole throughout Saturday’s shootout – quickest in Q1 and the start of Q2 – although there was a hugely contentious moment at the start of Q3.

Before the lap that would eventually give him pole, the Dutchman was driving slowly along the fastest section of track, warming up his tires. Norris, though, took a different out-lap strategy and went to overtake Verstappen on the straight, before the Red Bull swerved left as he tried to accelerate on his cold tires.

Norris had to take swift avoiding action onto the grass, and then had a slow first Q3 lap. Verstappen, meanwhile, posted the fastest lap of the day. He raised his hand to apologise to Norris on the in-lap, but stewards quickly stated that he was under investigation, and at risk of a penalty.

McLaren's Lando Norris blamed Red Bull driver Max Verstappen for almost causing a collision with him during Q3 at Suzuka

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McLaren’s Lando Norris blamed Red Bull driver Max Verstappen for almost causing a collision with him during Q3 at Suzuka

McLaren’s Lando Norris blamed Red Bull driver Max Verstappen for almost causing a collision with him during Q3 at Suzuka

The F1 rules state that “at no time may a car be driven unnecessarily slowly, erratically or in a manner which could be deemed potentially dangerous to other drivers or any other person”.

“I mean it was quite clear he tried to [block me],” Norris told Sky Sports F1. “There’s no rule on what you can do, but doing what he did is something that you cannot do.

“People always overtake before the last corner, as much as everyone agrees to it [gentleman’s agreement]everyone always does it, so it doesn’t matter, he probably would have done the same if he was in my situation, but I wouldn’t have swerved at him if I was in his situation.”

Verstappen, however, argued that Norris should have been more “respectful”.

“We were on our out-lap and we were all lining up to try to create a gap to everyone, and somehow he still wanted to get me into the chicane,” said Verstappen. “But I was at the point of acceleration, I was on very cold tires so I had a little moment and that’s why he had to drive around me.

Red Bull boss Christian Horner believes Lando Norris was wrong to try overtaking Max Verstappen on his out-lap but did not think the Dutchman should be penalized for the incident after securing pole

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Red Bull boss Christian Horner believes Lando Norris was wrong to try overtaking Max Verstappen on his out-lap but did not think the Dutchman should be penalized for the incident after securing pole

Red Bull boss Christian Horner believes Lando Norris was wrong to try overtaking Max Verstappen on his out-lap but did not think the Dutchman should be penalized for the incident after securing pole

“But if you’re just a bit more respectful, then everyone is already lining up anyway. 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.”

Christian Horner also cited a “gentleman’s agreement” that drivers hold position at the end of their out-laps, though Sky Sports F1’s Jenson Button believed a penalty could have been incoming due to potentially dangerous driving.

“I don’t think any of it was intention, when Lando says he turned left into me, I don’t think he did,” said Button, the 2009 world champion.

“Hey [Max] is not looking in his mirrors, he looks like he’s got on the throttle to try and warm the tires up and that’s put him in a position that looks like he’s moving over on Lando. Should he have done that? No.

“He’s going too slow on the exit of a 200mph corner, so that’s the issue that he has.

“None of it was intentional but the problem is that it could have been a massive incident and was very close to being a massive incident between the two cars.”

Lewis Hamilton admits his straight-line speed cost him in qualifying meaning he will start in sixth in his Mercedes at the Japanese Grand Prix

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Lewis Hamilton admits his straight-line speed cost him in qualifying meaning he will start in sixth in his Mercedes at the Japanese Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton admits his straight-line speed cost him in qualifying meaning he will start in sixth in his Mercedes at the Japanese Grand Prix

The other qualifying stories and final timesheet

Red Bull and Ferrari were in a league of their own on Saturday – while Mercedes were locked in a battle behind with McLaren and Alpine.

Lacking straight-line speed in a because they surely cannot wait to see the back of, Hamilton and Russell had to put their all into just making it into Q3 and in the end could only manage sixth and eighth respectively.

They were beaten by Ocon and sandwiched by the other impressive Alpine of Fernando Alonso.

AlphaTauri's Pierre Gasly was not best pleased as brake issues saw him eliminated from Q1 in Japan

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AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly was not best pleased as brake issues saw him eliminated from Q1 in Japan

AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly was not best pleased as brake issues saw him eliminated from Q1 in Japan

Vettel was another standout from the shootout, making it to Q3, while Aston Martin team-mate Lance Stroll was eliminated in Q2, while one of the big disappointments came down at AlphaTauri.

Pierre Gasly, who earlier in the Suzuka morning was finally confirmed as an Alpine driver for 2023, only qualified 17th.

Watch Max Verstappen bid to seal his second world championship live on Sky Sports F1 on Sunday. The Japanese GP starts at 6pm, with build-up from 4.30am.

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