Not even a display failure can stop Max Verstappen. The two-time Formula 1 world champion won pole position for the Japanese Grand Prix with a show of force and then received applause from the audience with a permanent grin.
The Red Bull driver from the Netherlands was in his own league and turned a magic lap at the very end of qualifying in 1:28.877 minutes. "It's been an incredible weekend so far. The car felt really nice, especially in qualifying," said Verstappen after his ninth pole this season and the 29th of his career overall.
The surprisingly strong McLaren drivers Oscar Piastri (0.581 seconds) and Lando Norris (0.616 seconds) landed behind the long-eluded World Championship leader. There was a world of difference between Verstappen and the competition at the Suzuka International Racing Course. Sergio Perez in the second Red Bull was already 0.773 seconds behind in fifth place.
Team boss raves about the world champion
“That was outstanding, that was absolutely outstanding, Max,” enthused Red Bull team boss Christian Horner at the command post. The racing team's motorsport advisor, Helmut Marko, was also full of praise. "Max was really highly motivated here and wanted to show it," said the Austrian on the TV channel Sky and was particularly amazed in view of Verstappen's last lap and the strong time in the first sector: "Everything is back on track."
A week ago, Verstappen and Perez had a hard time in Singapore. After the small dip in the season, the Dutchman has now bounced back impressively. "Singapore was in our bones, especially him. He wanted to show who was the best and fastest," said Marko. "It was breathtaking at the speeds at which he drove these fast corners."
For Nico Hülkenberg, qualification in 18th place at Haas was over after the first knockout round. “Overall, it just wasn’t happy or fast enough,” summed up the 36-year-old.
Williams driver accident
After an accident involving the American Logan Sargeant, the first knockout round was interrupted nine minutes before the end. The 22-year-old newcomer, whose Formula 1 future is uncertain, lost control of his Williams at the start of the start-finish straight, spun on the grass and crashed into the barrier. Sargeant destroyed the left side of his car.
But he was able to get out again on his own and ran across the asphalt back into the pit lane. Meanwhile, the Williams was recovered with a sick person. “It hurts, of course,” Sargeant admitted contritely.
The traditional English racing team has only confirmed Alex Albon as its regular driver for the coming season. Sargeant has not yet been able to score a point in his debut season in Formula 1, but he has already had several accidents. Mercedes replacement Mick Schumacher and Brazilian Aston Martin reservist Felipe Drugovich are considered possible successors.
Who should beat Verstappen?
But Verstappen, who had already determined all three training sessions, provided the big show. Even the failure of his screen on the steering wheel didn't worry him. “We didn’t know why it happened,” admitted Marko.
Verstappen can't become world champion again in Qatar in two weeks at the earliest. In return, Red Bull can complete the constructors' world championship in the 16th race of the season on Sunday (8 a.m. CET/Sky).
To achieve this, Verstappen and Perez must score at least one point more than Mercedes, while at the same time not losing more than 24 points to Ferrari. “That is the goal,” emphasized Verstappen at the Honda home game. The Japanese car manufacturer is Red Bull's drive partner.