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Verstappen on pole but grid penalty looms

Verstappen on pole but grid penalty looms

FORMULA ONE: Max Verstappen will start the Japanese Grand Prix from pole position pending a stewards investigation into erratic and dangerous driving in a frightening near collision with Lando Norris.

By Michael Lamonato

Saturday 8 October 2022, 06:22PM

Red Bull’s Dutch driver Max Verstappen waves to fans. Photo: AFP

Red Bull’s Dutch driver Max Verstappen waves to fans. Photo: AFP

Verstappen was driving slowly around the outside of the super-fast 130R corner when Norris closed in at a rate of knots.

Caught unaware, Verstappen attempted to join the racing line but lost control of the car and swerved in front of the McLaren, which was forced to take to the grass in order to avoid a crash.

Both drivers were able to continue their laps, but the stewards opened an investigation to be conducted at the end of qualifying.

Norris accused Verstappen of attempting to prevent him from getting ahead on track with a clumsy blocking move and called for the championship leader to serve a penalty.

“It was quite clear he tried to do that,” he told British TV. “Doing what he did is something that you cannot do.”

But Verstappen accused the Briton of breaking an agreement between drivers not to overtake in the final sector of a track before starting a qualifying lap.

“If he had just a bit more respect for me ‒ because everyone is anyway lining up and I don’t think anyone is trying to pass into that last chicane, so by trying to pass me you create that kind of thing,” he said.

It was a sour end to a strong qualifying hour for Verstappen, who had a firm handle on the field until losing a part of his bodywork on his final flying lap.

He had held a quarter-second advantage over Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc after their first runs but wasn’t able to improve when a duct from his floor freed itself from his car over the kerbs, opening the door to Leclerc and Ferrari teammate Carlos Sainz to snatch top spot.

Both improved but fell agonisingly short of the Dutchman’s benchmark, with Leclerc falling short by just 0.01 seconds and Sainz 0.057s off the pace.

Verstappen can claim the championship this weekend if he wins the race with the fastest lap or with Leclerc and Perez third or lower.

“I’m very happy to be on pole but also in general just super happy to be here,” he said. “I’m quite confident we have a good car. I’m excited for tomorrow.”

Leclerc said he was hoping mixed conditions forecast for Sunday could swing the race in his favour from the front row.

“It’s so close with everyone, so that’s nice,” he said of his car’s pace relative to the Red Bull Racing car. “The feeling was good with the car.

“Let’s wait and see the conditions. It seems that it’s going to have a bit of rain somewhere in the race. It should be a fun race.”

Sainz was optimistic Ferrari was a genuine chance in the race to prevent Verstappen from winning the title this weekend.

“I think there’s plenty of things that could happen tomorrow,” he said. “There’s also a great opportunity starting in P3. 

“I think we are in good position to fight Max tomorrow.”

Sergio Perez qualified fourth and 0.4s slower than his pole-getting teammate.

Esteban Ocon was outstanding in fifth, beating Lewis Hamilton to the place by 0.2 seconds.

Fernando Alonso followed ahead of George Russell, with Sebastian Vettel a superb ninth, 10 places up on teammate Lance Stroll.

Lando Norris was 10th ahead of McLaren teammate Daniel Ricciardo, missed out on the top-10 shootout by just 0.003 seconds. Valtteri Bottas will start alongside him on the sixth row of the grid.

Yuki Tsunoda will start his first home grand prix from 13th after suffering brake problems throughout qualifying, with Zhou Guanyu in 14th and Mick Schumacher 15th.

Thai driver Alex Albon was pipped to a spot in Q2 by just 0.055s, leaving him 16th on the grid.

Pierre Gasly, after announcing his 2023 switch to Alpine next year, qualified 17th with brake problems, the Frenchman blasting his team over radio after locking up at the hairpin. 

Kevin Magnussen qualified 18th ahead of Lance Stroll and Nicholas Latifi on the last row of the grid.

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