Max Verstappen put himself on course to wrap up a second successive Formula One title in the Japanese Grand Prix by edging Ferrari rival Charles Leclerc to pole position in qualifying at the Suzuka circuit on Saturday.
The Red Bull racer lapped the 5.8-km track in one minute, 29.304 seconds, beating Leclerc by just 0.010 seconds, with Carlos Sainz also only 0.057 seconds off the pace in his Ferrari in third.
Verstappen, however, was set to be investigated by the stewards after the session for an incident with Lando Norris in which he appeared to swerve into the speeding McLaren driver’s path.
The Briton was forced to drive onto the grass to avoid contact.
“It was incredible to drive here again, of course very happy to be on pole but just super happy to be back here,” said Verstappen after taking the 18th pole of his career and fifth this season.
Sunday “will be interesting with the weather, I’m quite confident we have a good car,” he said.
Verstappen leads Leclerc by 104 points in the overall standings and needs to score eight points more than the Monegasque to wrap up proceedings on Sunday.
That means he will be champion if he wins ahead of the Ferrari driver and also takes the fastest lap.
Verstappen’s Red Bull team mate Sergio Perez was fourth, ahead of Alpine’s Esteban Ocon and Lewis Hamilton in his Mercedes.
Home hope Yuki Tsunoda, racing a Formula One car in front of his fans at Suzuka for the first time, was 13th.