Verstappen back in the fast lane at Japanese GP qualifying

Formula 1 has arrived at Suzuka this weekend for the 16th round of the season


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Red Bull's Max Verstappen during practice at the 2023 Japanese Grand Prix. - Reuters
Red Bull's Max Verstappen during practice at the 2023 Japanese Grand Prix. - Reuters

Published: Fri 22 Sep 2023, 2:31 PM

Max Verstappen laid down a marker with the fastest times in both practice sessions for the Japanese Grand Prix on Friday, as he looks to put one hand on his third-straight Formula One title.

Red Bull's Verstappen put down a lap of 1min 30.688sec to finish 0.320sec quicker than second-placed Charles Leclerc of Ferrari in the second practice.

Verstappen, who leads teammate and nearest rival Sergio Perez by 151 points in the championship standings, cannot clinch the title on Sunday but a favourable result can set him up to seal the deal at the Qatar Grand Prix next month.

The Dutchman is looking to bounce back from a disappointing fifth-place finish at last weekend's Singapore Grand Prix that ended his record streak of 10-straight wins.

He said his car was "enjoyable to drive again".

"We had a strong day on short runs, long runs," said Verstappen.

"There's a lot of degradation on this track so it will be quite tough on tyres in the race, but so far it's a good start to the weekend."

Red Bull's Max Verstappen and Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso at the Japanese Grand Prix. - Reuters
Red Bull's Max Verstappen and Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso at the Japanese Grand Prix. - Reuters

Verstappen made his intentions clear from the start of the day, finishing the first practice quickest ahead of Ferrari's Carlos Sainz and McLaren's Lando Norris.

And there was no let-up in the second session. He briefly ceded top spot to Leclerc before switching to fresh tyres and reclaiming first place.

Norris had the third-fastest time with 1min 31.152sec.

Verstappen said his rivals were "all a bit tight behind me".

"We'll have a look but at the end of the day we focus on ourselves and try to optimise our performance," he said.

"If we do that then I'm confident we fight for pole."

Red Bull chief Christian Horner was happy to see Verstappen back in form after his Singapore woes.

"It's still early days but Max laid down a statement of intent with his first flying lap of the weekend, which was truly impressive," he said.

Perez did not enjoy such a successful day, finishing ninth in the second session.

He was more than a second behind Verstappen but said his team had a "pretty good understanding of the direction that we need to take".

"Things are certainly looking much better than they did last weekend, which is positive," he said.

Alpine's Pierre Gasly crashed with just minutes of the second session remaining.

Gasly was unhurt but his front wing was badly damaged after catching the barriers.

"Locked up, sorry for that," he said over the team radio.

Sainz, who won last week in Singapore, finished fourth, followed by Mercedes's George Russell and Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso.

Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton was 14th in a tough outing for Mercedes.

Hamilton said he had "a lack of confidence in the car".

"We know we've got a lot of work to do tonight to pick up the performance," said Hamilton, who finished third in Singapore.

"I do believe we can make improvements though."

Haas's Kevin Magnussen had a near miss with Sainz at turn two, giving the Spanish driver a sarcastic thumbs-up in response.


Alfa Romeo's Zhou Guanyu suffered a hydraulic leak late in the session.

Lance Stroll was back in action after missing the Singapore race, following a huge crash in qualifying that destroyed his Aston Martin.

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