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Title-chasing Verstappen pips Leclerc to Japanese GP pole

2. Verstappen
Red Bull Racing’s Dutch driver Max Verstappen (left) and Ferrari’s Spanish driver Carlos Sainz Jr react after finishing first and third in the qualifying session ahead of the Formula One Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka, Mie prefecture on October 8, 2022. (Photo: AFP)

SUZUKA, Japan — 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.اضافة اعلان

The Red Bull driver topped the timesheets in qualifying with a time of 1min 29.304sec, just 0.010sec 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 a scary 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 had a close call in qualifying when the Dutchman nearly lost control of his car while on a slow lap at the final chicane as Norris raced up behind him.

The McLaren driver was forced onto the grass to avoid hitting the Red Bull, with the championship leader muttering “unbelievable” over his team radio.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner told Sky Sports that there was “a gentleman’s agreement” that drivers would file through the chicane one by one.

Norris disagreed, telling the broadcaster that he thought Verstappen should have been penalized “for sure”.

“There’s no rule on what you can do, but doing what he did is something that you cannot do,” said the British driver.

Verstappen 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.

Fed-up, furious

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.

Seven-time world champion Hamilton is looking to maintain his proud record of winning at least one race in every season since his Formula One debut in 2007.

But he said the Red Bull and Ferrari cars were “in a different league” in Suzuka from his Mercedes.

“It feels good to drive and it was a clean session for me, but we are just a long way off in terms of the ultimate pace,” he said.

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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