Max Verstappen sets blistering pace to blow away rivals and take Japanese Grand Prix pole

Pole position qualifier Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing and Second placed qualifier Oscar Piastri of Australia
Max Verstappen dominated the field in qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka - Getty Images/Mark Thompson

Max Verstappen set a blistering pace to blow away the challenge of Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris and take pole position for the Japanese Grand Prix.

Verstappen was imperious around the high-speed corner circuit – where Lewis Hamilton warned the Red Bull would be “phenomenal” – taking pole by a massive 0.581 seconds ahead of Piastri.

“Incredible weekend so far, especially in qualifying when you can push it to the limit. It felt really nice,” Verstappen said on track.

“We had a bad weekend in Singapore. I felt this was going to be a good track. From lap one it has been really nice.”

Piastri, in his debut season in Formula One, had never even been to Japan before this week but got the edge on his McLaren team-mate to line up on the front row.

Red Bull will almost certainly clinch the Constructors’ Championship on Sunday at the home race of their engine supplier Honda.

Verstappen’s team-mate Sergio Perez finished fifth, over seven tenths adrift of the pace-setter. Hamilton and George Russell were well off the pace for Mercedes, who are battling with Ferrari to finish second in the Constructors’ Championship, and will line up seventh and eighth on the grid.

Ferrari, who are running a new floor at Suzuka, took fourth via Charles Leclerc, while Singapore-winner Carlos Sainz finished sixth. Yuki Tsunoda was confirmed by AlphaTauri to be driving alongside Daniel Ricciardo in 2024 and delighted his home crowd by making the top-10 shootout, finishing ninth.

Q1 was red-flagged with just over nine minutes remaining when Williams’ Logan Sargeant oversteered out of the final corner and slid heavily into the barriers. The American, who is yet to be confirmed by Williams for 2024, quickly jumped out of the car and made his way across the track and back to the pit lane.

Japanese Grand Prix qualifying results and classification
Japanese Grand Prix qualifying results and classification

Verstappen dominates qualifying to take Japanese GP pole: as it happened

08:38 AM BST

I don't have much hope for an interesting race at the front tomorrow

It’s a shame after what we saw in Singapore. I can’t think of a world where Verstappen doesn’t retire or get involved in a smash where he doesn’t win. Actually, I think he probably could crash and drop to the back of the field and would have enough pace to win.

It might be interesting behind him, though.

The race on Sunday begins at 6am BST and we will be here for the build-up and live action from around 5am tomorrow. 

08:27 AM BST

In fairness, Verstappen hasn't been on pole all that much recently

These are the most recent polesitters:

Hungary: Hamilton 
Belgium: Leclerc 
Holland: Verstappen 
Italy: Sainz 
Singapore: Sainz

In fairness, he was fastest in qualifying in Belgium but took a grid penalty so technically did not get pole.

08:24 AM BST

Norris on his third

“As a team, a P2 and P3, a great job by Oscar today. A great job today. It’s tricky... the smallest mistake can make a big amount of lap time. I’m happy, it’s been a good day. Good positions for tomorrow.”

08:23 AM BST

Piastri on a front-row start

“It’s been a really good weekend for the team. We’ve got upgrades on the car, they’re quick. We thought we might have a decent chance around here but you’ve still got to make it work. It’s the first time I’ve started on the front row for a while. there’s only one car ahead to overtake so I’ll try and make that happen.”

08:22 AM BST

Verstappen reacts to pole

“Incredible weekend so far, especially in qualifying when you can push it to the limit it felt really, really nice. We had a bad weekend in SIngapore but I already felt that this was going to be a good track... from lap one it’s been really nice. You try to find improvements here and there and I think we did that.”

08:20 AM BST

Max Verstappen's brilliance is recognised

But you have to be impressed by that lap from Piastri. He beats Norris on a true drivers’ track, having never driven it before this weekend, and gets a front-row start. He probably should have had a podium at Silverstone but for a bit of poor luck with a safety car. Tomorrow should be a good chance for that.

08:17 AM BST

Q3 - Classification

  1. VER 1:28.877

  2. PIA +0.581

  3. NOR +0.616

  4. LEC +0.665

  5. PER +0.773

  6. SAI +0.973

  7. HAM +1.031

  8. RUS +1.342

  9. TSU +1.426

  10. ALO +1.683

08:16 AM BST


Not sure if we need caps there... it seemed inevitable. And that was a mighty fine lap. McLaren second and third.

08:16 AM BST

Q3 - Only seventh for Hamilton, but ahead of Russell

Verstappen dips into the 1:28s...

08:15 AM BST

Q3 - Verstappen improves by 0.135sec

Nobody currently within half a second of him...

Leclerc only fourth, nearly seven tenths off. Last week’s winner Sainz is nearly a second off and fifth...

Piastri loses time but stays second for now... and stays second... Norris cannot improve so remains third!

Perez in eighth... improves to fifth, seven tenths off his team-mate.

Only Hamilton left in 10th...

08:14 AM BST

Q3 - Leclerc 0.4sec down after one sector

Sainz half a second down. OK, maybe they will not challenge McLaren... that is a long way off.

Verstappen is improving, a tenth up on his previous best after two sectors.

08:13 AM BST

Q3 - Might the Ferraris provide some challenge for McLaren?

I think so. Anyway, into the final two minutes here. Verstappen is going again.

08:12 AM BST

Q3 - Russell one second off after two sectors

This should put him in fourth or fifth... he crosses the line fourth, 1.207sec off Verstappen. Unless he has another go I can’t see that being all that good. Alonso sixth, then, 1.548sec off Verstappen.

That Red Bull is back in a league of its own this weekend.

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen of the Netherlands steers his car during qualifying session for the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at the Suzuka Circuit, Suzuka, central Japan, Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023
Red Bull driver Max Verstappen of the Netherlands steers his car during qualifying session for the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at the Suzuka Circuit, Suzuka, central Japan, Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023

08:10 AM BST

Q3 - Out comes Alonso, as well as Russell

Looks like they are doing one run on new tyres.

08:09 AM BST

Q3 - Order after the first runs

Not everyone has set a lap time.

  1. VER 1.29.012

  2. PIA +0.446

  3. NOR +0.481

  4. PER +1.411

  5. HAM +1.707

  6. TSU +2.101

  7. RUS (NO TIME)

  8. ALO (NO TIME)

  9. LEC (NO TIME)

  10. SAI (NO TIME)

08:08 AM BST

Q3 - Norris also within half a second of Verstappen

But slower than Piastri by just 0.035sec and in fourth.

08:07 AM BST

Q3 - Verstappen posts a 1:29.012

Perez, close behind, is 1.4sec off that and Hamilton 1.7sec off it.

What does Piastri do? He’s within half a second. I think that’s a good effort but we will know once Norris sets his time.

08:06 AM BST

Q3 - A 30.825 in sector one from Verstappen

Perez is 0.7sec nearly off that in that sector alone. He is on used tyres, though. Still... Nobody else so far even close to dipping into the 30s in that sector so far. Well, actually Norris is: with a 31.025.

08:05 AM BST

Q3 - Hamilton and Tsunoda on used tyres

Verstappen, Piastri and Norris on fresh soft tyres. Verstappen starts his first flying lap of this mini-session. That Red Bull looks mighty in the first sector. Glued to the track in the twisty section towards the Degners.

08:03 AM BST

Q3 begins! 12 minutes on the clock

10 drivers and surely a Verstappen pole?

07:58 AM BST

Q2 - Classification

  1. LEC 1:29.940

  2. VER +0.024

  3. PER +0.025

  4. HAM +0.100

  5. SAI +0.127

  6. PIA +0.182

  7. TSU +0.264

  8. RUS +0.328

  9. NOR +0.356

  10. ALO +0.525

  11. LAW +0.568

  12. GAS +0.569

  13. ALB +0.597

  14. OCO +0.646

  15. MAG +0.728

07:56 AM BST

Q2 ends - Leclerc fastest

Lawson, Gasly, Albon, Ocon and Magnussen all eliminated. Tsunoda through in Japan, nice.

07:56 AM BST

Q2 - Russell into seventh, knocking Lawson out

It’s up to Gasly to knock out Alonso... can he do it? Nope. Not much in it so I think Alonso survives and makes it through into the top 10 and Q3.

07:55 AM BST

Q2 - Alonso only eighth...

That is probably not enough. Hamilton into third, Leclerc fastest now! Lawson only 10th... surely that isn’t good enough. Perez improves to third...

07:53 AM BST

Q2 - Problems for Piastri?

He’s pulled up in the pit lane on the way out and the McLaren mechanics are wheeling him back towards his garage.

“Oscar, you don’t have to leave. We’ll come and get the car.” They think they’re safe. So didn’t want to waste any tyres.

07:52 AM BST

Q2 - Albon moves into seventh

Is that going to be enough? About six-tenths off Verstappen’s time.

Suzuka Circuit, Suzuka, Japan - September 23, 2023 Williams' Alexander Albon during qualifying
Suzuka Circuit, Suzuka, Japan - September 23, 2023 Williams' Alexander Albon during qualifying

07:51 AM BST

Q2 - How they currently stand

  1. VER

  2. PIA +0.158

  3. NOR +0.332

  4. PER +0.370

  5. TSU +0.389

  6. LEC +0.492

  7. SAI +1.192

  8. RUS +1.196

  9. HAM +1.258

  10. LAW +1.256

  11. ALO

  12. OCO

  13. GAS

  14. ALB

  15. MAG

07:49 AM BST

Q2 - Norris goes second but will Piastri beat him?

Yes he does, just 0.158sec off Verstappen. That is a good lap indeed. However, Verstappen’s time was on used softs whereas the four cars immediately behind him (Piastri, Norris, Perez and Tsunoda) were all on new softs. So let’s not get too excited. It also means the Ferrari and Mercedes cars should improve by a fair chunk on their next runs with fresher rubber.

07:47 AM BST

Q2 - Hamilton fourth, but 1.258sec off Verstappen

Russell beats that by about a tenth of a second. Perez goes second, 0.370sec but the McLarens are on decent laps with great first sector times from both Norris and Piastri.

Mclaren driver Oscar Piastri of Australia steers his car during qualifying session for the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at the Suzuka Circuit, Suzuka, central Japan, Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023
Mclaren driver Oscar Piastri of Australia steers his car during qualifying session for the Japanese Formula One Grand Prix at the Suzuka Circuit, Suzuka, central Japan, Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023

07:45 AM BST

Q2 - A 1:30.456 for Leclerc

Nearly half a second off Verstappen, but at least 0.7sec faster than team-mate Sainz. I am not sure what happened to him, there.

The two Mercedes are about to complete their second sectors and it’s not good news. Both of them are a second off Verstappen’s time.

07:44 AM BST

Q2 - A 1:29.964 from Verstappen

On used tyres and not too far off his Q1 lap time on new softs. Albon is about 1.6sec off that.

07:42 AM BST

Q2 begins - 15 minutes on the clock

Good from Albon to get through after struggling in FP3. That’s a brilliant lap from Lawson. I do wonder if AlphaTauri have made the right decision choosing Ricciardo over him. What would have been the harm in delaying another month and giving Lawson another three rounds to see how he does? And the same with Ricciardo.

Anyway, Verstappen, the two Ferraris and Albon are out there. All on used tyres; softs.

07:36 AM BST

Q1 - Classification

  1. VER 1:29.878

  2. NOR +0.185

  3. LEC +0.515

  4. LAW +0.547

  5. PIA +0.561

  6. SAI +0.773

  7. PER +0.774

  8. TSU +0.855

  9. RUS +0.933

  10. HAM +0.933

  11. GAS +0.965

  12. ALB +1.063

  13. OCO +1.082

  14. ALO +1.093

  15. MAG +1.098

  16. BOT

  17. STR

  18. HUL

  19. ZHO

  20. SAR

07:34 AM BST

Q1 ends - Verstappen fastest

Bottas, Stroll, Hulkenberg, Zhou and Sargeant out.

Zhou complaining about traffic into turn nine but that is where he ran very wide and lost the lap time that probably cost him his place in Q2.

07:33 AM BST

Q1 - What can Stroll do?

Only 15th. I think he could be out here. Russell in seventh. Tsunoda into seventh, knocking Stroll out.

Hamilton about to complete his lap as Alonso goes 11th and Lawson a brilliant fourth on a new set of tyres. Hamilton moves 10th.

Albon needs to find some lap time here and he does! That’s Bottas out.

07:32 AM BST

Q1 - Bottas moves up to 10th

Will that be enough? Gasly into seventh, decent, Magnussen then goes ninth. Ocon then goes eighth. Nobody struggled so far...

07:31 AM BST

Q1 - Only one minute left on the clock

Verstappen, Norris, Leclerc and Sainz have not come back out. Everyone else bar Sargeant is out there.

07:29 AM BST

Q1 - That Lawson lap has led to a gaggle of cars at the end of the pit lane

“There’s so much traffic,” Hamilton says. Yeah, you’re part of it too, mate.

Only 15 drivers have set a lap time: Bottas, Hulkenberg, Sargeant, Albon and Gasly have not. So they are the drivers in the drop zone.

07:27 AM BST

Q1 - Lawson goes seventh and ahead of Russell

That suggests the track evolution is fairly strong here. Although he was also 0.3sec faster than team-mate Tsunoda.

AlphaTauri's Liam Lawson during qualifying
AlphaTauri's Liam Lawson during qualifying

07:26 AM BST

Q1 - Leclerc begins his hot lap

It’s not a brilliant first sector, 0.3sec down on Verstappen, though the Red Bull has been mighty there. He only loses 0.090sec in the middle sector, though, and will have a good chance to go into the top three here. Indeed he does, going third, 0.515sec down on Verstappen and splitting the two McLaren cars.

07:23 AM BST

Q1 - And we're back underway

Verstappen currently leads the way. The track temperature has dropped a little since we were last on track.

07:21 AM BST

Still nine minutes and five seconds left in the session

And seven drivers have yet to set a lap time and plenty of others will want to improve. Could be a busy finish. The Ferraris line up at the end of the pit lane to get their first laps in.

07:20 AM BST


The track has been designated clear and we will get going again shortly after Logan Sargeant’s crash caused a red flag.

07:17 AM BST

There had been some thought that Liam Lawson could be loaned to Williams in 2024

Logan Sargeant has not had the best debut season and has also suffered a fair few crashes. It’s how Alexander Albon ended up at Williams, loaned from Red Bull. Either way, I think the American Sargeant is definitely driving for his future.

07:13 AM BST

Q1 - Sargeant just slid onto the grass in the final sector

...and then looked like he kept his foot in a bit too much and then slid into the barriers, left-side on.

07:12 AM BST

Q1 - Order under the red flag

  1. VER 1:29.878

  2. NOR +0.185

  3. PIA +0.561

  4. PER +0.774

  5. RUS +1.104

  6. HAM +1.139

  7. ALO +1.236

  8. OCO +1.291

  9. TSU +1.333

  10. ZHO +1.520

  11. MAG +1.679

  12. LAW +1.851

  13. STR +2.368

  14. LEC

  15. SAI

  16. BOT

  17. HUL

  18. SAR

  19. ALB

  20. GAS

07:10 AM BST


Sargeant is out of the car but it is wrecked and that will be the session stopped.

07:10 AM BST

Q1 - McLaren looking the biggest threat to Verstappen this weekend

And Piastri confirms that by going third, albeit more than half a second down on Verstappen.

We’ve got double yellows because Logan Sargeant has had a fair old shunt at the final corner...

07:09 AM BST

Q1 - It's a 1:29.878 for Verstappen which is fastest

He does not have a great amount of soft tyres for this qualifying session so that might be his only lap. Sergio Perez will need to go again... he’s 0.774sec down on his team-mate.

Lando Norris up there with Verstappen after two sectors... but finishes the lap 0.185sec down on the Dutchman. Not too bad.

07:07 AM BST

Q1 - Verstappen begins his first fast lap

He, unsurprisingly, sets the fastest first sector time, although gets a bit lairy on the exit of Degner 2. He then goes fastest in the second sector as well.

07:05 AM BST

Q1 - Lawson with a 1:31.729sec

Lance Stroll is half a second off that time as the cars queue up at the end of the pit lane.

07:01 AM BST

Q1 - Lance Stroll the first driver out

He has had a bit of a time of it recently. Crashed heavily in qualifying in Singapore and then missed the race.

07:00 AM BST

GREEN LIGHT: Q1 begins!

18 minutes, 20 drivers and only 15 will go through to Q2. Liam Lawson keen to get out.

07:00 AM BST

Red Bull can win the constructors' title this weekend

Verstappen cannot win the drivers’ championship.

06:56 AM BST

We are about three minutes away from Q1 beginning

It’s always good to have some home interest in Japan. Kamui Kobayashi finished on the podium here 11 years ago, which was some achievement.

06:49 AM BST

Thoughts on this new camera?

It’s good, isn’t it?

06:39 AM BST

Remaining F1 races this year

2023 F1 season calendar: remaining races
2023 F1 season calendar: remaining races

06:32 AM BST

Last week in Singapore was the first non-Red Bull win of the year

In fact, it was the first time Max Verstappen did not finish either first or second and broke his run of 10 wins in a row. So, well done to Ferrari and Carlos Sainz.

Race winner Carlos Sainz of Spain and Ferrari celebrates with the trophy after the F1 Grand Prix of Singapore at Marina Bay Street Circuit on September 17, 2023 in Singapore, Singapore
Race winner Carlos Sainz of Spain and Ferrari celebrates with the trophy after the F1 Grand Prix of Singapore at Marina Bay Street Circuit on September 17, 2023 in Singapore, Singapore

Can we expect a similar level of challenge this weekend? Well, going on the three practice sessions we have seen so far: fat chance. The track is probably one that suits the Red Bull and in particular Verstappen, a lot. I would be surprised if anyone got within four-tenths of Verstappen at the end of the qualifying hour.

06:26 AM BST

The two Degner right-handers causing issues

It tends to be the way these days. Tricky. Wouldn’t be surprised if someone binned it in qualifying. Pierre Gasly did so in practice yesterday.

06:22 AM BST

Is retaining Ricciardo the right decision?

Ricciardo’s comeback to F1 after being dropped by McLaren last year only begun in Hungary. He then had another race in Belgium before suffering his injury during a crash at Zandvoort. Lawson has been excellent in the races that he has deputised but that has only been two races... and Lawson is still young. In any case, if Ricciardo is a dud next year there’s nothing to say that they cannot switch them mid-season.

Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Scuderia AlphaTauri looks on from the paddock prior to the F1 Grand Prix of Singapore at Marina Bay Street Circuit on September 17, 2023 in Singapore, Singapore
Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Scuderia AlphaTauri looks on from the paddock prior to the F1 Grand Prix of Singapore at Marina Bay Street Circuit on September 17, 2023 in Singapore, Singapore

We’re still not sure when he might return this season after his injury. Qatar is in two weeks’ time and then we have USA, Mexico, Brazil, Las Vegas and Abu Dhabi. So still a fair amount of races.

06:17 AM BST

Current constructor standings

06:05 AM BST

Current driver standings: Top 10

05:59 AM BST

Times from third and final F1 practice

  1. Max Verstappen, Red Bull 1min 30.267sec

  2. Lando Norris, McLaren 1min 30.507sec

  3. Oscar Piastri, McLaren 1min 30.555sec

  4. Sergio Perez, Red Bull 1min 31.004sec

  5. Charles Leclerc, Ferrari 1min 31.022sec

  6. Carlos Sainz, Ferrari 1min 31.137sec

  7. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes 1min 31.159sec

  8. George Russell, Mercedes 1min 31.505sec

  9. Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin 1min 31.549sec

  10. Zhou Guanyu, Alfa Romeo, 1min 31.688sec

  11. Valtteri Bottas, Alfa Romeo, 1min 31.699sec

  12. Kevin Magnussen, Haas, 1min 31.880sec

  13. Esteban Ocon, Alpine, 1min 31.924sec

  14. Yuki Tsunoda, AlphTauri 1min 31.951sec

  15. Nico Hulkenberg, Haas 1min 31.979sec

  16. Logan Sargeant, Williams 1min 32.002sec

  17. Liam Lawson, AlphaTauri 1min 32.048sec

  18. Alexander Albon, Williams 1min32.113sec

  19. Lance Stroll, Aston Martin 1min 32.154sec

  20. Pierre Gasly, Alpine 1min 32.199sec

05:50 AM BST

Daniel Ricciardo and Yuki Tsunoda sign for AlphaTauri in 2024

Daniel Ricciardo and Yuki Tsunoda have been confirmed as AlphaTauri’s driver partnership for next season. Former Red Bull and McLaren driver Ricciardo returned to Formula One in July, replacing the axed Nyck de Vries in the second AlphaTauri, but suffered a broken hand in a heavy crash in just his second race back during practice at Zandvoort.

That presented an opportunity to New Zealander Liam Lawson, who impressed hugely in the rain in Zandvoort before picking up two points for the team last time out in Singapore. But the 21-year-old has not done enough to earn a drive with the Red Bull sister team next season and will instead reprise his role as reserve driver.

“I’m stoked to be driving with Yuki again next year and continuing the journey with Scuderia AlphaTauri,” Ricciardo, 34, said.

“Following the progress we have already made and the plans for the future, it’s an exciting time for the team.

“We are building and it is a great feeling. There is a lot of work to do, but we are heading in the right direction and there is a lot to look forward to. Bring on 2024!”

Lawson’s future in Formula One was the subject of great interest ahead of this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix, where he continues to deputise for Ricciardo while he recovers from surgery.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner did not rule out the possibility of loaning Lawson to another team, with American Logan Sargeant’s place at Williams rumoured to be under threat.

“He [Lawson] is a gritty racer, we knew that about him and I think he has grabbed the opportunity in Formula One that drivers very seldom get to demonstrate their talent,” Horner said on Friday ahead of AlphaTauri’s announcement.

September 23, 2023 AlphaTauri's Liam Lawson in the pits during practice
Liam Lawson has impressed, but not enough to get claim a seat - Reuters/Issei Kato

“I think he’s done a tremendous job and certainly has put himself firmly on the radar and cemented the feeling that we had about him.

“He will be a Grand Prix driver, he already is, at some stage. Whether he has to wait a little for that or not he is demonstrating that he is a talent for the future.

“He is in the Red Bull family. If there was a seat, we have done that in the past when Carlos Sainz went on loan to the previous Renault team.

“If he is not sitting in a Grand Prix car next year then he will have plenty on his plate with other stuff to do.”

Tsunoda joked on Thursday that the team needed three seats next season, such was the battle to secure a drive between the three drivers.

The 23-year-old made his Formula One debut with the team at the start of the 2021 season and achieved his best finish of fourth place in the final race of that campaign.

In a difficult season for AlphaTauri, Tsunoda has picked up just three points and sits 17th in the standings ahead of his home race at Suzuka.

By Scott Hunt, PA, Suzuka

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