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Verstappen on pole in Japan


Ahead of today's qualifying session the air temperature is 20.5 degrees C, while the track temperature is 28.7 degrees. It remains cloudy but dry and still very windy.

Max Verstappen set the pace earlier, but one cannot help but feel that Ferrari might have something up their sleeves.

Losing out in terms of straight-line speed Mercedes is unlikely to be springing any surprises, unlike Alpine where Fernando Alonso is as feisty and determined as ever.

Both McLarens were in the mix, as were Stroll and Alpine, while the big surprise has to be the lack of pace from the AlphaTauri pair.

However, the big question hanging over today's session is the question of tomorrow's weather, for with many predicting rain do teams set-up with dry qualifying in mind or tomorrow?

The lights go green and Latifi leads the way, followed by Gasly and Tsunoda, all on softs.

Leclerc watches his crew which is working on his car which is still up on its stand.

Latifi's pits at the end of his flying lap leaving Gasly to post the benchmark, a 32.049.

To the crowd's delight, Tsunoda crosses the line at 31.631.

In no time at all there are 17 drivers on track including the big guns. All are on softs bar the Mercedes pair who are on mediums.

Norris goes quickest with a 31.431, but Perez responds with a 30.622.

As Verstappen crosses the line at 30.224, Russell (31.713) goes fifth and Hamilton eighth (31.891).

Sainz splits the Bulls with a 30.336, as Ricciardo goes fourth, ahead of Norris, Stroll and Schumacher.

2019 winner, Bottas posts a 31.260 to go sixth.

With 8 minutes remaining, Albon and the Alpines are last out.

Leclerc goes third with a 30.402, while a 30.603 sees Alonso go fourth.

Pushing to the limit, Norris runs wide in Degner 2.

"Problem with the brakes, what the **** is going on," asks Gasly, as he improves to ninth with a 31.322.

Teammate Tsunoda is also struggling with his brakes, though he manages to improve to tenth.

"Work on brakes, straight-line braking when you can," Tsunoda is told. "Yes, I know!" he shouts in response.

Now on softs, Russell improves to sixth (30.865) and Hamilton eighth (30.906), Mercedes having admitted that the reason for the previous medium run was down to saving (soft) tyres.

The drop zone consists of Zhou, Magnussen, Vettel, Latifi and Albon. Indeed, Albon has yet to post a time having had his previous effort deleted.

Alonso, the Bulls and Ferraris watch as the rest head out for the final assault.

Norris goes quickest in S1 as Vettel goes tenth overall.

Stroll can only manage 14th as Bottas goes eleventh and Zhou eighth.

Schumacher goes eleventh, while Magnussen fails to improve.

Tsunoda goes twelfth and Ocon sixth, while Norris claims ninth.

Albon can only manage 16th, as Vettel hangs in by the skin of his teeth.

Gasly is furious, still suffering a brake issue he fails to make the cut.

Quickest is Verstappen, ahead of Sainz, Leclerc, Alonso, Perez, Ocon, Russell, Ricciardo, Norris and Zhou.

We lose Albon, Gasly, Magnussen, Stroll and Latifi.

The Ferrari pair are first out for Q2, both on used softs.

"Looks like the sun is out so could be a slower track," said Sainz.

As the Ferrari pair begin their flying laps, they are joined by the Bulls and a whole host of drivers.

Sainz posts 30.444 and Leclerc 30.486, both slower than they were in Q1.

"A bit of engine hesitation," reports Ocon.

Perez goes third with a 30.702, while a 30.346 sees Verstappen go top.

Alonso goes fourth, ahead of Perez, Norris, Vettel and Schumacher.

Ocon leapfrogs his Alpine teammate with a 30.533, as Ricciardo goes fifth and Hamilton sixth.

"Brake is open again, brake is open again, brake is so bad," shouts Tsunoda.

All pit for fresh rubber, as Norris, Vettel, Zhou, Schumacher and Tsunoda comprise the drop zone.

Vettel leads the way as the majority head out for the final assault, Verstappen, Sainz and Leclerc staying put. Perez is currently eighth.

Vettel and Ocon set a strong pace in S1 but Perez goes quickest.

Vettel improves to fifth (30.656), while Ocon goes second and Perez quickest (29.925).

Both Alfas fail to make the cut, as does Tsunoda.

Hamilton goes fifth which drops Russell to eleventh. At the death the Briton posts a 30.465 to go seventh, which is bad news for Ricciardo who misses out by 0.003s. The Australian is clearly disappointed on hearing that he failed.

Quickest is Perez, ahead of Alonso, Verstappen, Ocon, Hamilton, Sainz, Russell, Norris, Leclerc and Vettel.

We lose Ricciardo, Bottas, Tsunoda, Zhou and Schumacher, the German having been involved in a pitlane incident with the Japanese driver.

Perez is first out for Q3, followed by Leclerc, Ocon, Verstappen and Sainz.

Ocon is particularly keen to get on with it and overtakes the Monegasque's Ferrari.

Replay shows Leclerc having to hit the brakes when Verstappen was released into his path as they left the pits.

Ocon crosses the line at 31.106 but all eyes are on Leclerc who stops the clock at 29.557.

Sainz goes second and Perez third, ahead of Norris.

However, Verstappen responds with a 29.304, as Russell goes fifth and Hamilton sixth.

A 30.322 sees Alonso go fifth.

Norris is forced to take avoiding action coming out of 130R when he encounters Verstappen who is weaving in a bid to generate his into his tyres. Though it is the world champion who appears to be at fault, he is the one who does the complaining. "******** unbelievable," he sighs.

Vettel, currently 6th, heads out and has the track to himself, as the stewards announce they will investigate the Norris/Verstappen incident after the session.

"OK boys, good session, really enjoyed it," says Vettel who is not going to try to improve on his current time. "This track is really so much better than all the other ones."

Leclerc leads the way as the nine remaining drivers begin their final flyers.

The Monegasque is quickest in S2 but fails to improve his overall time.

Sainz improves but remains third, while Perez consolidates fourth.

Verstappen remains quickest, as Hamilton leapfrogs Alonso for 6th.

Verstappen, who appeared to lose something from the back of his car, is quickest, ahead of Leclerc and Sainz, the three covered by just 0.057s.

So, pending the outcome of that investigation, Verstappen ha pole, ahead of Leclerc, Sainz, Perez, Ocon, Hamilton, Alonso, Russell, Vettel and Norris.

Ricciardo is eleventh, ahead of Bottas, Tsunoda, Zhou, Schumacher, Albon, Gasly, Magnussen, Stroll and Latifi.

Check out our Saturday gallery from Suzuka here.


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