Max Verstappen in pole position for title charge at Japanese Grand Prix

Red Bull driver can seal second world championship in Suzuka on Sunday

Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc, left, Red Bull's Max Verstappen, centre, and Carlos Sainz of Ferrari after qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix. EPA
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Formula One world championship leader Max Verstappen put Red Bull on pole position for the potentially title-deciding Japanese Grand Prix.

Ferrari's Charles Leclerc, the 25-year-old Dutch driver's closest rival, joined him on the front row after Saturday's qualifying at Suzuka.

The stakes will be high on race day where Verstappen will be world champion for the second time if he beats Leclerc by eight points.

It was Verstappen’s fifth pole of the season. However, that has not been crucial for Verstappen, who has won 11 times this season — often starting from a non-pole position.

Verstappen finished first in qualifying on Saturday with a winning lap time of 1 minute, 29.304 seconds at Suzuka. He was followed by Leclerc, Carlos Sainz of Ferrari, and Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez.

Verstappen, however, was set to be investigated by the stewards after the session for an incident with Lando Norris in which he appeared to swerve into the speeding McLaren driver's path.

The Briton was forced to drive onto the grass to avoid contact.

"It was incredible to drive here again, of course very happy to be on pole but just super happy to be back here," said Verstappen after taking the 18th pole of his career and fifth this season.

"I lost a bit of my duct on that last lap which is why I didn't improve. Tomorrow will be interesting with the weather."

Verstappen leads Leclerc by 104 points in the overall standings. That means he will be champion if he wins ahead of the Ferrari driver and also takes the fastest lap. Showers are forecast for Sunday.

Perez was fourth, ahead of Alpine's Esteban Ocon and Lewis Hamilton in his Mercedes.

Home hope Yuki Tsunoda, racing a Formula One car in front of his fans at Suzuka for the first time, was 13th.

"It's a very tricky lap around here, I lost the tyres in the last section so lost some time," said Leclerc after just losing out on pole.

"We'll try and have a good race, we have a very limited amount of data so that's always a challenge. Let's wait and see the conditions - should be a fun race."

AlphaTauri's Pierre Gasly failed to make it past Q1 after an issue with his brakes.

The Frenchman, who announced earlier in the day that he will replace two-time world champion Fernando Alonso at Alpine next season, was furious.

"I feel we could have managed this situation a bit better," Gasly told TV reporters.

Updated: October 08, 2022, 7:48 AM