Max Verstappen took his first Japanese Grand Prix pole position on Saturday after a tremendously close battle between Red Bull and Ferrari.
We started the day off with the news that Pierre Gasly will be joining Esteban Ocon at Alpine next season, while Yuki Tsunoda is set to be partnered by Nyck de Vries, who was so impressive in his appearance at the Italian Grand Prix with Williams.
Despite brake issues, Yuki Tsunoda made it into the second phase of qualifying 12th time this season at his home race, while Kevin Magnussen, who shone during Friday practice, was disappointingly eliminated in Q1.
Alex Albon almost squeezed out of the bottom five, but he was denied by a good lap from Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel.
The Thai-Briton was joined in the drop zone by Pierre Gasly, Lance Stroll and Nicholas Latifi, whose five-place grid penalty picked up in Singapore is now immaterial.
Max Verstappen had set the early pace for Red Bull, and he led Charles Leclerc at the end of Q2, as Lando Norris faced a battle to make it into the top 10.
The Briton climbed up to fifth as team-mate, Daniel Ricciardo, failed to make the final session having been pushed out by George Russell’s late heroics.
Sebastian Vettel’s exceptional effort saw him make it through, maintaining his record of starting in the top 10 every time he has raced at Suzuka.
Home hero Tsunoda was eliminated too, along with Valtteri Bottas, Zhou Guanyu and Mick Schumacher.
Sergio Perez snatched the fastest lap time, while a fine run by Fernando Alonso lifted him to second, setting up an intriguing top 10 shootout.
Verstappen set the early pace in Q3, with three tenths separating him and Carlos Sainz in third, either side of Leclerc.
The reigning champion got caught up in a slight incident with Norris on the out-lap ahead of the first run. The McLaren driver sent it through 130R while Verstappen was crawling, and Norris had to take to the grass to avoid him following a kick of oversteer.
The Dutchman found Norris on his way back to the pits, and appeared to offer a hand of apology. The stewards are now investigating the precarious moment.
Try as they might, neither Leclerc nor Sainz could improve, so Verstappen kept pole despite setting a slower second run, before Esteban Ocon climbed to a brilliant fifth.
Hamilton split the two Alpines as Fernando Alonso took seventh, ahead of George Russell, Vettel and Norris.
With half a tenth separating the top three, we are set for an incredible race on Sunday.
Verstappen’s pole is still pending the stewards’ investigation.