Piastri joins Verstappen on front row for Japanese GP
By Mat Coch
Saturday 23rd September, 2023 - 5:21pm
Oscar Piastri will start alongside Max Verstappen on the front row for the Japanese Grand Prix.
The Australian recorded the second fastest time in qualifying, 0.5s away from Verstappen who put to rest the demons of a week ago.
Lando Norris will line up third in another strong showing for McLaren, resisting the pressure applied by Ferrari, who’ll have Charles Leclerc in fourth.
Liam Lawson will start 11th after just missing the cut into Qualifying 3, with his Scuderia AlphaTauri team-mate Yuki Tsunoda ninth.
Lawson was the first out of the pits, though there was no initial stampede to join him.
Only Stroll headed out with the Scuderia AlphaTauri driver, the New Zealander faster with a 1:31.729s.
It was only as he was completing his slow down lap did the field trickle out, but even then it was without the two Ferraris.
Both Sainz and Leclerc waited another minute, leaving them off the back of the queue when it came to start their first flying laps.
Predictably, Verstappen rocketed to the top with a 1:29.878s, Norris slotting in second just under 0.2s slower.
His McLaren team-mate was third fastest, banking his time just before the double yellow flags were thrown for Logan Sargeant.
The American had run-off at the final corner, heavily damaging the left-hand side of the Williams.
He’d lost traction exiting the final chicane, wrestling the car only to run out of road and career into the barrier to draw the red flag.
It was a blow for a quarter of the field who were yet to set a time, both Ferrari drivers among them.
The session resumed with Leclerc heading the field out after a 14-minute delay, followed by his Ferrari team-mate.
With the addition of Lawson, the trio had Suzuka to themselves.
Leclerc went third best and Sainz fifth, while Lawson jumped to seventh fastest.
It was a prudent move as, with five minutes remaining, four drivers (five if you count Sargeant) had still not recorded a lap time.
Those in that position were gambling that, as they headed out of the pits, there would be no yellow flags or worse that would compromise their run.
Traffic was a problem as all but Verstappen, Norris, Leclerc, and Sainz, the latter two having just returned to the pits, jockeyed for clear track.
At the end of the session, eliminated along with Sargeant were Zhou Guanyu, Nico Hulkenberg, Stroll, and Valtteri Bottas.
Lawson impressed to sit fourth, while Tsunoda was eighth in the other Scuderia AlphaTauri.
Ferrari was not leaving it to chance at the start of Qualifying 2, employing the reverse of the strategy they ran in Qualifying 1.
That saw Leclerc and Sainz on the track as the lights in pit lane went green.
Verstappen was also on track early, recording the best time with a 1:29.964s.
Leclerc slotted in second with his lap, 0.5s away from the Red Bull, with Leclerc 0.7s slower again.
Perez demoted the two Ferraris a spot when he completed his first timed lap of the segment to sit second best, a 1:30.334s.
Soon after, a polite rapture of applause broke out when Tsunoda jumped to third best with a time only 0.02s slower than Perez.
Once the field had completed its first run, Verstappen headed Piastri, then Norris, Perez, Tsunoda, the two Ferraris, the two Mercedes (George Russell ahead of Lewis Hamilton) and then Lawson to round out the top 10.
Having completed three runs in Qualifying 1, Lawson was without fresh tyres in his quest for a second successive Qualifying 3 berth.
With three minutes remaining, the field trickled back down the lane and onto the circuit ahead of the final flurry.
Not joining them, despite his best efforts, was Piastri, who stopped at pit exit, the team pushing him back to the McLaren garage.
Norris had also not bothered to head out for another lap, nor had Verstappen or Alex Albon, who sat seventh.
That cleared the way for Leclerc to top the session with Sainz improving to third.
Kevin Magnussen’s only lap of the session left him 10th and on the bubble, before he was bundled out as others improved.
Lawson also found himself in the hot seat, eliminated by Russell’s 1:30.268s.
Pierre Gasly also failed to progress, along with Albon, Esteban Ocon, and Magnussen.
A blistering opening sector for Verstappen saw the Dutchman record a 1:29.012s as Qualifying 3 began, putting him on provisional pole over Piastri by 0.4s.
Norris was third from Perez, then came Hamilton and Tsunoda.
However, only six cars had run, Ferrari opting for just a single lap at the end of the session.
Mercedes did send Russell out, which saw him up to fourth, while Fernando Alonso slotted in sixth prior to the final runs.
Ferrari gave up half a second through the first split to Verstappen – who was ahead of the two Scuderia machines and improving on his earlier effort.
Verstappen managed a 1:28.877s to solidify his position at the top of the timesheets.
Neither McLaren driver was able to improve to remain where they were, Leclerc looking to threaten only for that to fall short.
He remained fourth ahead of Perez, then came Sainz, Hamilton, Russell, Tsunoda, and Alonso.