After treating Formula 1 to one of the greatest qualifying laps of all time, a chuffed Max Verstappen relished being on pole at the daunting Suzuka Circuit, for the 2023 Japanese Grand Prix, setting himself for a first victory at the legendary venue and lining up the F1 Constructors’ title for his Red Bull team on Sunday.
A delightful crowd, as always, at Suzuka roared in approval as they witnessed the Red Bull driver at this very best, delivering one of the most sparkling Q3 sessions ever, as he zoomed to his own planet to take P1 spot on the grid by the largest margin since Michael Schumacher did the feat back in 2005 for Ferrari.
Verstappen’s first lap in the final stanza of qualy was something to behold, going purple in every sector to go comfortably top of the timing screens. Then, the best for last, as Max again went purple in all three sectors, a tenth up in Sector 1 was the clincher and foundation of his lap for the ages.
How remarkable was the pole-winning performance? Verstappen’s time was 0.581s better than McLaren’s Oscar Piastri in P2 and three-quarters of a second up on teammate.
Interviewed impeccably by forme F1 driver Jean Alesi in parc ferme afterwards, a beaming Verstappen addressed the rapturous and appreciative crowd who knew what they had just witnessed: “First I went to say a big thank you to the fans for supporting us the whole weekend and everyone is passionate about Formula 1.
“Incredible weekend so far. Especially in qualifying when you push it to the limit, it felt really really nice. We had a bad weekend in Singapore but I already felt from the preparation we had that this would be a good track.
“You never really know how good it would be but from Lap 1 it has been really nice. You try to find little improvements here and there and to be on pole here is fantastic,” declared the soon-to-be triple F1 World Champion.
Verstappen: It was just super nice
Later in the FIA post-quality press conference, Verstappen added: “The whole weekend has been really good. As soon as we put the car on the track, it’s been very enjoyable to drive, very predictable, which I think is the most important.
“And, yeah, lap after lap in Qualifying as well, it was getting better. I mean, I only had three new sets of tyres, so I had to be a bit careful with using them, basically. So, in Q2 I had to run the scrubbed. But then, once I put on a new set again, in the first run in Q3, it was just super nice. I mean, these high-speed corners, if the car is very well balanced and you can really push it to the limit, it’s just really enjoyable to do to drive.”
Did he surprise himself with the pace? The Red Bull ace replied: “It’s always difficult to judge but after FP3 I was like, ‘they’re quite close’. But then luckily, I think yeah, we made some tiny adjustments and I think it helped the car a little bit. And then probably Sector 1, once you feel very confident with the car, you can push it a little bit more and that’s what happened in qualifying.”
Verstappen went on to reveal how his RBR engineer Gianpiero Lambiase taunted him to get into the 1m28s, of course, Max obliged and explained: “He told me a ’28 would be nice. I said: don’t worry, I’m going send it.
“Then he was like: yeah, but don’t shunt the car, right? I was like: yeah, well, obviously, that’s not what I want to do. I knew that there was still a little bit left in a few places, and that’s what I tried to tidy up, which worked out quite well,” added Verstappen after etching a 29th pole position to his already remarkable CV.
Horner: What we have witnessed today is something very special
It was a lap for the ages, F1 fans were privileged to witness. The illusive Perfect Qualifying Lap was witnessed twice today in Q3, the first run was huge and was followed up by a colossal lap that will have everyone talking for ages. A proper eternal “I saw that in real-time” moment for all who witnessed it.
Oozing pride and admiration for his driver, Red Bull team boss Christian Horner knew it was a remarkable display when he told reporters: “What we have witnessed today is something very special. That last lap, just have a look at Turn Five.
“That first sector was absolutely mighty! That first run looked good enough to get the job done but then he went quicker again. All his laps have been stunning today. An absolutely mind-blowing performance.”
Horner then confirmed the radio taunt between Max and his engineer: “GP [Lambiase] started winding him up before his last run: let’s see a 28 in there. And I said to GP: I would like to see four wheels on the car at the end of it.”
Red Bull are likely to wrap up the 2023 F1 Constructors’ on Sunday here in Japan, all they need to do is not to be outscored by Ferrari or Mercedes, in other words, beat them. Verstappen is seeking a first victory at Suzuka, the venue that separates the men from the boys, he too could also seal the Drivers’ deal if the stars really align for him because he was a giant among men today.
Whatever the case both 2023 F1 titles are a foregone conclusion and, if you think about it, have been since around the Canadian Grand Prix. Now we await to see how much Verstappen will win the race on Sunday. His turnaround from Singapore to Suzuka is clearly a case of ‘angry Max, is a hungry Max.