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Verstappen with Suzuka pole in his sights after dry-run blast
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Verstappen with Suzuka pole in his sights after dry-run blast

Verstappen with Suzuka pole in his sights after dry-run blast

Verstappen with Suzuka pole in his sights after dry-run blast

Verstappen with Suzuka pole in his sights after dry-run blast

Max Verstappen lit up Suzuka as F1's reigning champion teed himself up for pole position ahead of Sunday's Japanese Grand Prix.

The Red Bull posted a superb lap time of one minute 30.671secs to finish three-tenths of a second quicker than Ferrari's Carlos Sainz, with the Spaniard closely followed by team-mate Charles Leclerc.

With wet conditions dominating Friday practice on F1's return to Japan after a three-year absence, there was an obvious stampede to take to a dry track for the final hour-long session.

Across the 20 drivers, all three compounds were used as different run plans came to the fore, with Verstappen initially opting for the softs and setting a lap of 1:32.050s, a remarkable 1.2s clear of Perez on the same tyre in the early exchanges.

That was in stark contrast to Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton, whose initial laps were high-fuel runs on the hard rubber, with the seven-time F1 champion 4.546s off the pace.

It was not until 26 minutes into the session and after 11 laps on the hard compound that Hamilton switched to the softs, with his opening foray also 1.2s adrift.

Immediately behind him, team-mate George Russell's initial soft-tyre run saw him go second quickest, just under a second behind Verstappen.

It was not until Sainz took to the track a few minutes later that we saw the first of the low-fuel qualifying simulation runs, with the Spanish driver almost a second quicker than Verstappen.

Leclerc soon made it a Ferrari one-two, only for Verstappen to split the pair, 0.351s down, albeit on the medium tyre to further underline the pace of his RB18.

When Verstappen switched again to the soft tyre on low fuel, he set the benchmark and made him the man to beat in qualifying.

Alpine's Fernando Alonso fared superbly as the two-time champion was fourth on the timesheet, 0.649s down followed by Red Bull's Sergio Perez and then Russell and Hamilton.

McLaren's Lando Norris, Esteban Ocon in his Alpine and Aston Martin's Lance Stroll rounded out the top 10, with the Canadian 1.167s behind.

In a rebuilt Haas, following his crash at the end of second practice, Mick Schumacher was 16th quickest just behind team-mate Kevin Magnussen.

Bizarrely, AlphaTauri's Pierre Gasly, confirmed as joining Alpine for next season, was slowest, 2.210s adrift.

Japanese Grand Prix final practice results

1. Max Verstappen [Red Bull] 1:30.671s

2. Carlos Sainz [Ferrari] +0.294s

3. Charles Leclerc [Ferrari] +0.309s

4. Fernando Alonso [Alpine] +0.649s

5. Sergio Perez [Red Bull] +0.843s

6. George Russell [Mercedes] +0.859s

7. Lewis Hamilton [Mercedes] +0.918s

8. Lando Norris [McLaren] +1.076s

9. Esteban Ocon [Alpine] +1.079s

10. Lance Stroll [Aston Martin] +1.167s

11. Daniel Ricciardo [McLaren] +1.189s

12. Alexander Albon [Williams] +1.275s

13. Valtteri Bottas [Alfa Romeo] +1.300s

14. Sebastian Vettel [Aston Martin] +1.551s

15. Kevin Magnussen [Haas] +1.619s

16. Mick Schumacher [Haas] +1.695s

17. Yuki Tsunoda [AlphaTauri] +1.706s

18. Zhou Guanyu [Alfa Romeo] +1.714s

19. Nicholas Latifi [Williams] +2.197s

20. Pierre Gasly [AlphaTauri] +2.210s

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