Max Verstappen will bid to wrap up a second straight Formula One world title as Daniel Ricciardo seeks another strong result at the Japanese Grand Prix with his future in the sport plunged into doubt.
Dutchman Verstappen topped the timesheets in qualifying with a time of 1min 29.304sec, just 0.010sec ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, his nearest championship rival. Carlos Sainz was third in the other Ferrari.
Verstappen then faced a nervous wait after stewards said they would investigate a scary on-track incident involving the Dutchman and McLaren’s Lando Norris. Verstappen was given a reprimand but will remain on pole.
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He’ll be hoping for a straight forward start-to-finish win, but persistent, medium-level rain began to arrive at the Suzuka circuit just an hour before lights out.
WILL VERSTAPPEN WIN THE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP IN JAPAN?
The reigning champ can clinch the title on Sunday (race start 4pm AEDT) if he wins the race with the fastest lap, no matter what his rivals do.
He will also retain his crown if he wins and Leclerc is third or lower.
How Max Verstappen can win the title at Japanese GP
1st with fastest lap = Champion no matter what
1st = Leclerc 3rd or lower, Perez irrelevant
2nd = Leclerc 5th or lower without fastest lap, Perez 4th or lower without FL
2nd with FL = Leclerc 5th or lower, Perez 4th or lower
3rd = Leclerc 7th or lower, Perez 6th or lower
3rd with FL = Leclerc 6th or lower, Perez 5th or lower
4th = Leclerc 8th or lower without FL, Perez 7th or lower without FL
4th with FL = Leclerc 8th or lower, Perez 7th or lower
Can also win the title from 5th/6th, if he finishes 7th or lower title race goes to Austin
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“I’m not thinking about it too much, just taking it day by day,” said the 25-year-old, who is bidding to become only the eighth driver in F1 history to successfully defend their first championship.
Verstappen, who has won 11 of 17 races this season, said: “I think what was more important is that we’ve had a competitive car and clearly we had today in qualifying.
“I hope it’s going to be the same tomorrow in the race because we do need a perfect race to be able to win it tomorrow.”
Ricciardo, meanwhile, was left frustrated after narrowly missing out on a place in the top 10 on the grid.
The Australian, who has confirmed he won’t race in Formula 1 next year, was fast in the early stages of the second session but was beaten in the dying moments and ousted from the final term by Sebastian Vettel.
Ricciardo is looking to build on his encouraging fifth place at last week’s Singapore GP.
“We’ll have a good race tomorrow. We’ve got good race pace,” his team said over the radio.
“F***, I don’t know where it got away,” Ricciardo said.
There’ll also be plenty of eyes on the performance of AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly, who announced earlier in the day that he will replace two-time world champion Alonso at Alpine next season — a seat Ricciardo was said to have been in the mix for.
The Frenchman failed to make it past Q1 after an issue with his brakes that eft him furious.
“I feel we could have managed this situation a bit better,” Gasly told TV reporters.
Grid for the Japanese Grand Prix, the 18th round of the 22-race Formula One world championship, after qualifying:
Front row Max Verstappen (NED/Red Bull) Charles Leclerc (MON/Ferrari)
2nd row Carlos Sainz (ESP/Ferrari) Sergio Perez (MEX/Red Bull)
3rd row Esteban Ocon (FRA/Alpine) Lewis Hamilton (GBR/Mercedes)
4th row Fernando Alonso (ESP/Alpine) George Russell (GBR/Mercedes)
5th row Sebastian Vettel (GER/Aston Martin) Lando Norris (GBR/McLaren)
6th row Daniel Ricciardo (AUS/McLaren) Valtteri Bottas (FIN/Alfa Romeo)
7th row Yuki Tsunoda (JPN/AlphaTauri) Zhou Guanyu (CHN/Alfa Romeo)
8th row Mick Schumacher (GER/Haas) Alexander Albon (THA/Williams)
9th row Pierre Gasly (FRA/AlphaTauri) Kevin Magnussen (DEN/Haas)
10th row Lance Stroll (CAN/Aston Martin) Nicholas Latifi (CAN/Williams)afp
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