Verstappen takes pole ahead of Japanese Grand Prix

Max Verstappen has taken pole ahead of tomorrow’s Japanese Grand Prix, with team-mate Sergio Perez making it Red Bull’s 27th front row lock-out.

It was perhaps closer than most were expecting between the duo, with just +0.066 separating them at the chequered flag. In comparison, the gap from Verstappen to P2 last year was over half a second.

Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images) // Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

McLaren’s Lando Norris initially split the Red Bulls after the first runs in Q3, but Perez eeked out more of an improvement in the second runs to leapfrog the McLaren into second.

The top five was rounded out by Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz and Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso. The other Aston Martin of Lance Stroll, in contrast, missed out on advancing to Q2 by only +0.061 and will start tomorrow’s race down in P16.

Oscar Piastri will start P6 with Lewis Hamilton in P7, the Brit sounding more buoyant about the set-up of his Mercedes than he has in recent weeks.

Charles Leclerc ran out of sync with the rest of the top ten in Q3, setting his only lap of the session with the entire track to himself. His time initially put him P7, but with the rest of the field re-emerging a few minutes later for their second runs he slipped to P8 by the time the chequered flag was brought out.

George Russell qualified P9. He was released into the path of Piastri in the pits during Q1 but has escaped a grid drop, with Mercedes instead receiving a €5,000 fine for an unsafe release.

Home favourite Yuki Tsunoda rounds out the top ten.

Both heartbreak and elation at Motegi.


Heavy rain poured down in Japan for the start of the qualifying but by Q2 it had stopped, the track however was still drenched. The riders went out cautiously.

A surprise, but not a complete surprise, came from one rider – Marc Marquez. He showed he was still very much a champion and put his Honda back on pole position (his first pole since Motegi in 2019). Behind him Johann Zarco (Ducati) took second place and Brad Binder (KTM) took the last slot on front row.

Rainy conditions wouldn’t stop Marc Marquez. Courtesy of: Moto GP website.

Fabio Quartararo (Yamaha) qualified 9th. 12th was Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati) and in 6th was Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia) – the top championship contenders.


Clear skies graced the track on Sunday but that didn’t mean drama wasn’t just round the corner.

Aleix Espargaro had issues with his Aprilia from the start of the sighting lap, before the race had even begun, forcing him to return to pit lane, where he then literally dropped his bike to take his number 2 bike out. He managed to get out of the pit lane in time to join onto the back of the race.

Back on the grid – Marquez got a great start from pole, but Binder had an even better one and was soon leading, from Marquez and Martin. Martin, however, was quick to take 2nd and by turn 3 had also managed to pass Binder to take the lead.

There was another man on a mission though in the form of Jack Miller (Ducati). He had managed to pass both Miguel Oliveria (KTM) and Marquez, in one swift move, to take 3rd place.

Every championship point rang in their ears: – Quartararo was down in 8th place, behind him in 11th was Bagnaia and Espargaro had made it to 22nd. What could any of them do?

Meanwhile Miller had passed next year’s teammate (Binder) to take another spot (2nd) on lap 3 of 24. While fastest lap went to Oliveira.

Up to second. Courtesy of: Moto GP website.

With 22 laps to go Miller fought Martin for the lead – he won and with it took fastest lap. Miller seemed to be untouchable.

In 8th place, Quartararo was under pressure by Luca Marini (Ducati) with 21 laps to go but so was Bagnaia from Bastianini. Enea managed to pass Pecco but Pecco took the position straight back. Meanwhile Marini had also passed Quartararo and managed to make it stick. There was only Pol Espargaro (Honda) between the top two of the championship.

Under pressure by Marini. Courtesy of: Moto GP website.

Zarco who had had a great qualifying session had fallen backwards throughout the race and perhaps had an issue with his bike. It was a gift for Quartararo who took 8th spot and Bagnaia promoted himself to 10th. Bastianini was still all over the Ducati rider though, waiting to attack.

With 17 laps to go gapping was being created – Miller’s gap between himself and Martin had grown to 1.046 seconds and Martin’s gap to Oliveira also had grown to 1.115 seconds. Bastianini managed to pass Bagnaia to take 10th place from him. There certainly were no team orders from Ducati. Bagnaia then had to worry about Marco Bezzecchi (another Ducati) who was already very close behind.

Passing Bagnaia. Courtesy of: Moto GP website.

Bastianini soon had pulled away and had already closed the gap between himself and P. Espargaro, managing to pass him on lap 11 of 24. It turned out Bagnaia had nothing to worry about with Bezzecchi as Bagnaia also passed Pol, after Pol made a slight mistake. Now up to 10th place, directly behind Bastianini once more.

Halfway through the race and Takuya Tsuda (who had stepped in for Mir at Suzuki) suddenly had his bike on fire beneath him, causing yellow flags to be waved at sector 2 (turn 5) and ultimately ending his home race.

In 7th place Marini was looking menacing behind Maverick Vinales (Aprilia) and soon had passed him to claim 6th spot and on the same lap (lap 14) Darryn Binder ended his race early sliding off into the gravel. He managed to re-join the race but retired a few laps later.

Back in front, Miller couldn’t put a foot wrong, with his metronomic lap times and a gap of 4.369 seconds ahead of Martin, the chequered flag was in reaching distance. Could he win his first race this year?

5 laps to go and Miller remained in command of the Japanese race, while his teammate also managed to dig deep and find some form, beginning to shrink the gap between himself and his future teammate. Into turn 12 he managed to pass Bastianini to take 9th, now he had Quartararo in his sights.

Martin, who had remained in 2nd place for quite some time, was under pressure from Binder. With only 3 laps until the end, who would take 2nd?

Behind them Honda rider Marquez had managed to pass Oliveira to take 4th with 2 laps left. Could he fight for the podium?

Last lap:

Miller continued to lead.

Behind him though, binder passed Martin to take 2nd –

Second-in-the-championship-man Bagnaia suddenly crashed out of 9th, applauding himself for his mistake, while he walked away.

Marini passed Oliveira but couldn’t quite make it stick, crossing the line.

But nothing could stop Jack today – the Thriller was back!

Top Ten Finishers:


J. Miller


B. Binder


J. Martin


M. Marquez


M. Oliveira


L. Marini


M. Vinales


F. Quartararo


E. Bastianini


M. Bezzecchi

This is Bagnaia’s 5th DNF this season and his teammate’s first Moto GP victory this year, it was both heartbreak and elation for Ducati.

Top 4 Championship Standings:


F. Quartararo

219 points


F. Bagnaia

201 points


A. Espargaro

194 points


E. Bastianini

170 points

None of the top championship riders could quite capitalize on today’s race, so the championship is still up for grabs with only 4 more races, who will be crowned World Champion?



(Featured image: Courtesy of Moto GP website). 

Formula 1 announces multi-year extension with Suzuka until 2024

Formula 1 announces a multi-year extension with the Japanese Grand Prix, ensuring that racing will remain at Suzuka Circuit for at least another three years. The multi-year extension between Formula 1 and race promoter Mobilityland will see the FIA Formula One World Championship continue to visit the historic circuit until 2024.

A mainstay on the Formula 1 calendar since 1987, the circuit has hosted many iconic championship deciders as well as some of its most memorable moments. Its only breaks in 34 years came in 2007 and 2008 when Fuji Speedway took over, including when it was cancelled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Japanese Grand Prix’s contract had been due to expire after the 2021 season.

Suzuka has struggled financially at times, not helped in part thanks to poor fan interest with no Japanese presence on the grid, the last being Kamui Kobayashi in 2014. The 2017 Japanese Grand Prix saw a 5.5% decline in attendance, the biggest percentage drop on the Formula 1 calendar at the time. Moreover, the Japanese Grand Prix only counted for 2.8% of TV audience in Japan, compared to 5.5% for European races.

However, there has been a remarkable shift in Japanese participation and success in recent years. Honda became the sole supplier for Red Bull and Alpha Tauri, taking seven victories in little over two seasons. Additionally, highly-rated Japanese driver Yuki Tsunoda has given the Japanese fans someone to support, hopefully for years to come.

Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Image) // Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Stefano Domenicali, President and CEO of Formula 1:

I am truly delighted that Formula 1 will continue to race at Suzuka Circuit for another three years. Japan holds a special place in the hearts and minds of F1 fans all over the world, and Suzuka has played host to many of the sport’s most legendary moments, with 11 Drivers’ titles being decided there. The Japanese Grand Prix has always showcased gripping, edge-of-your-seat drama, and I am thrilled we can continue to bring the action and excitement that is Formula 1 to the passionate motorsport fans of Japan.

“This extension is part of our long-term commitment to growing the sport in Asia, and we are pleased to be able to continue our successful relationship with Mobilityland. I’d like to personally thank Mr Tanaka and his team for their continued efforts in reaching this agreement, and we look forward to working with the promoter to increase the popularity and fanbase of Formula 1 there.”

Kaoru Tanaka, President Representative Director of Mobilityland Corporation:

“As a result of repeated negotiations with Formula 1, we have been able to conclude a contract on hosting the event from the year 2022 and onward. We would like to express our sincere gratitude to Formula 1 members, including first of all Mr Stefano Domenicali, for the great understanding that was shown during the negotiations.

“We are determined to continue to our efforts together with local residents of Mie Prefecture and Suzuka City so that Suzuka Circuit will continue to be loved by fans all over the world and contribute to the prosperity of the motorsports culture.

“In 2022, Suzuka Circuit will celebrate its 60th anniversary. In addition to the Formula 1 Japanese Grand Prix that will be held from the year 2022 and onward, we will take on new challenges for the future while also cherishing the history and traditions of the sport so that we may provide fans with surprises, joys and emotional experiences. Please look forward to the events to come.”

With the likes of two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato in IndyCar, Le Mans winner Kazuki Nakajima and Yuki Tsunoda in Formula 1 – it has never been a better time to be a motorsport fan in Japan.

The 2021 Japanese Grand Prix is set to be held on the 10th October providing no further postponements or cancellations.

Japanese Grand Prix Preview: As a typhoon looms, is Hamilton storming towards the 2019 title?

Just when things looked to be in peril for Mercedes in the second half of the season, stepping up to stop Ferrari was, erm… Ferrari.

An evident storm is brewing within the Italian giant as the rivalry intensifies between Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc, and imminent typhoon Hagibis will either threaten to ignite that combustible tension or will give them the necessary push to overcome their Russian demons.

Indeed, the title is now all but wrapped up by the imperious Lewis Hamilton who leads the championship by 73 points with just 128 still up for grabs.

His tour towards his inevitable sixth world title brings us to the 5.8-kilometre Suzuka circuit. It’s easy to get tied up in knots here, with it being the only figure-of-eight circuit on the calendar, and having the awe-inspiring yet terrifying first sector, featuring high-speed esses that require skill, talent and bravery in equal measure.

2018 Japanese Grand Prix, Saturday – Wolfgang Wilhelm

Such sections tend to become more difficult in treacherous conditions, and we are expecting no shortage of those this weekend. The typhoon is expected to affect practice, qualifying, and the race, although it is difficult to predict with any certainty.

Form generally gets tossed out the window in conditions like the ones anticipated in Suzuka – cast your minds back to Hockenheim – and the favourites for the weekend would be tough to predict in normal situations. Suzuka requires a pinpoint balance of power and downforce, and Ferrari – save for their spectacular in Sochi last time out – have seemed to excel at both since the teams returned from the summer break, but Mercedes will fancy their chances through the technical first sector.

Indeed this is a big weekend for Ferrari. Vettel had a complete nightmare last year in Japan, when a crazy, kamikaze move on Verstappen cost him any chance of a podium finish, and Charles Leclerc’s race was ultimately ruined after an incident at the start of the second lap with Kevin Magnussen.

Ferrari were in trouble before the race even began in Russia last time out. They had planned for Leclerc, starting on pole, to allow Sebastian Vettel, starting third, to slipstream his way past to ensure they had a one-two off the start. This was all well and good, but there’s one aspect Ferrari failed to factor in – pride.

Vettel, who is no stranger to team order controversy, was never going to allow Leclerc back past as the team had planned. Leclerc is an upstart who has walked into Vettel’s team and all but overthrown him. He needed to make a statement to his team, his team mate, and the world, saying that he is a four-time world champion, and that this is his team.

GP RUSSIA F1/2019 – DOMENICA 29/09/2019
credit: @Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

Ferrari gave Leclerc the undercut to pass Vettel in the pitstops, only for the German to suffer an engine failure. He stopped the car off track, brought out the virtual safety car, gave Mercedes a free pit stop for both their drivers, and, ultimately, a one-two.

It is fair to say, then, that Ferrari have a point to prove, but so do Mercedes. They must prove themselves able to throw down with Ferrari after a post-summer break that has seen their form undulate. They want to change that, and issue an emphatic message to their counterparts.

Elsewhere, Toro Rosso will give an F1 debut to reigning Super Formula and Super GT champion Naoki Yamamoto. The Japanese home hero will take Pierre Gasly’s seat in the first practice session, before Gasly returns to the cockpit for the rest of the weekend.

It’s set to be a tough weekend with Typhoon Hagibis looming, and there’s a storm brewing between Mercedes and Ferrari as we head towards beautiful Suzuka.


[Featured image – Charles Coates/Getty Images)

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