Max Verstappen and Red Bull are back on top in Formula 1 after crushing the opposition in Japanese Grand Prix qualifying.
There’s been zero sign of a repeat of Red Bull’s struggles in Singapore – where both cars were knocked out of Q2 – all weekend and that continued into qualifying with Verstappen delivering on his clear pole favourite status throughout.
He held a four tenths of a second advantage over his nearest rival, Oscar Piastri’s McLaren, after the opening runs of Q3.
Verstappen delivered a 1m28.877s on his final run to extend that gap to almost six tenths.
Piastri couldn’t improve on his second run but he’ll still line up on the front row in F1 for the first time in a grand prix, having done so in the sprint at Spa, and has managed that on his Suzuka debut too.
His team-mate Lando Norris was third quickest ahead of the Charles Leclerc and Sergio Perez who was seven tenths adrift in the second Red Bull.
Leclerc (along with the Alfa Romeo drivers) is facing a post-qualifying investigation for failing to follow the race director's notes over the maximum laptime in Q1. The Ferraris were investigated for the same offence at Monza but avoided a penalty.
Singapore winner Carlos Sainz, on pole for the last two races, was sixth fastest ahead of the Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and George Russell.
Yuki Tsunoda qualified ninth for AlphaTauri on home soil ahead of Fernando Alonso who rounded out the top 10 in his Aston Martin.
Stand-in Liam Lawson, fresh from finding out he won’t be returning to AlphaTauri as a race driver in 2024, came up just 0.043s short of place in Q3.
Neither Alpine could progress to Q3 with self-professed Suzuka fanatic Esteban Ocon only 14th ahead of Kevin Magnussen's Haas.
Pierre Gasly faired only slightly better in 12th place ahead of the Williams of Alex Albon.
Albon’s team-mate Logan Sargeant didn’t even set a lap in qualifying before he lost control of his Williams and smashed into the barriers at the final corner.
His broken FW45 caused a red flag and further intensifies the pressure on his future at Williams following crashes in the Netherlands and Singapore.
Zhou Guanyu was furious at the traffic on his lap, running wide at Degner 2 and earning a laptime deletion for his final flying lap, albeit a deletion that wouldn’t have prevented him from qualifying slowest of those who set laps in 19th. “F***ing hell” was his post-lap summary.
Alfa Romeo team-mate Valtteri Bottas couldn’t get through to Q2 either as he fell 0.073s short of Magnussen’s Haas.
Lance Stroll suffered his third successive Q1 exit as he was 17th fastest ahead of Nico Hulkenberg, Zhou and Sargeant.
JAPANESE GP GRID
1 Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
2 Oscar Piastri (McLaren)
3 Lando Norris (McLaren)
4 Charles Leclerc (Ferrari)
5 Sergio Perez (Red Bull)
6 Carlos Sainz (Ferrari)
7 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
8 George Russell (Mercedes)
9 Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri)
10 Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin)
11 Liam Lawson (AlphaTauri)
12 Pierre Gasly (Alpine)
13 Alex Albon (Williams)
14 Esteban Ocon (Alpine)
15 Kevin Magnussen (Haas)
16 Valtteri Bottas (Alfa Romeo)
17 Lance Stroll (Aston Martin)
18 Nico Hulkenberg (Haas)
19 Zhou Guanyu (Alfa Romeo)
20 Logan Sargeant (Williams)