SUZUKA, Japan (AP) — Formula One series leader Max Verstappen claimed pole position for the Japanese Grand Prix in Saturday’s qualifying, finishing .581 seconds ahead of McLaren rookie Oscar Piastri.
Highly motivated after missing out on the podium in Singapore, Verstappen has topped every session since arriving in Japan. The Red Bull driver clocked the fastest time of 1 minute, 28.877 seconds at the Suzuka circuit.
Australian Piastri will be on the front row for the first time in his F1 career. His teammate Lando Norris was third-fastest. Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc was fourth-fastest while Verstappen’s Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez rounded out the top five.
A front-row start is key at Suzuka. The winner has only come from behind the front row once in the past 12 races when Valtteri Bottas won from third in 2019.
Verstappen saw his record streak of 10 consecutive wins end in Singapore last weekend when he finished fifth. Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz won at Marina Bay, knocking Red Bull off the podium for the first time this year.
Unlike the street circuit in Singapore, Suzuka is a high-speed track far more suited to Verstappen’s car. The Dutchman wrapped up his second consecutive championship in Japan last year.
Despite his worst result since last November at Singapore, Verstappen increased his championship lead to 151 points over Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez, who finished eighth in Singapore.
With seven races remaining, including three sprints, there are 206 points on offer, meaning Verstappen cannot close out the title in Japan this weekend. The earliest he can seal his third championship is in Qatar on Oct. 8.
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The Associated Press