Verstappen takes pole in Japan with season title in sight
SUZUKA, Japan (AP) — Red Bull’s Max Verstappen will be on pole position for Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix as he tries to clinch his second straight Formula One driver’s title.
It was Verstappen’s fifth pole of the season. However, that hasn’t been crucial for Verstappen, who has won 11 times this season – often from a non-pole position.
Verstappen finished first in qualifying on Saturday with the best lap time of 1 minute, 29.304 seconds at Suzuka. He was followed by Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz and his Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez.
Verstappen is guaranteed to claim the season title if he wins the race on Sunday and also gets a bonus point for setting the fastest lap. He could also win the championship for a second straight year without a win depending on other results.
« I don’t think about it too much, » Verstappen said of Sunday. « I just take it day by day. I think what was most important was that we had a competitive car – and we clearly had that today in qualifying. And of course it will be the same. tomorrow in the race. »
« It’s a good start, » he added.
Even if he fails, Verstappen is set to claim the title in two weeks at the United States GP in Austin, Texas. He has a huge 104-point lead over Leclerc with five races to go, including Sunday’s.
He is also 106 points ahead of teammate Perez, the only other driver with a mathematical chance of overtaking him for the season title.
Verstappen had a dominant season. He has already won 11 times, and if he gets two more, he will equal a season record for wins held by Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel. They both won 13 in one season.
Saturday qualifying took place on a dry circuit. However, rain is forecast for Sunday in central Japan. These were also the conditions during Friday practice.
The race marshals then considered an incident during the third practice session involving McLaren’s Verstappen and Lando Norris. Norris was forced to swerve to avoid hitting Verstappen. The stewards reprimanded Verstappen but he retained pole.
Sunday’s race result could be quickly overshadowed on Monday when the FIA - Formula One’s governing body – is expected to rule on whether a team broke spending cap rules last season.
Unsourced reports indicate that Red Bull are one of the teams under investigation.
The FIA could impose financial penalties on a team or, in theory, could also strip Verstappen of the title he won last season in the final race of the season. It seems unlikely and could be a public relations disaster.