Max Verstappen dominated the fight for pole position at the Japanese Grand Prix ahead of rookie Oscar Piastri, who took his first grand prix front-row start at Suzuka.
Verstappen steamrolled the competition on his way to an advantage of more than half a second at the end of the hour to put his Red Bull team on track to win the constructors championship on Sunday.
The only wrinkle in an otherwise easy day for the Dutchman came in Q1, when Williams rookie Logan Sargeant crashed out of the session without a time, causing an almost 15-minute suspension.
Sargeant slid off the road at the final corner on his first attempt at a flying lap. The American understeered exiting the chicane and kept his foot in attempting to collect the car and conclude what up to that point had been a reasonably competitive lap.
Instead he skidded through the gravel and slammed into the barrier, causing heavy damage to the left side of his Williams, ensuring a long evening of repairs for his team to prepare for Sunday’s grand prix.
But the red flag wasn’t enough to trouble Verstappen, who topped the session, progressed through Q2 with only one lap and slamming in a pair of pole-worthy laps in Q3.
“Incredible weekend so far, especially in qualifying, when you can really push it to the limit,” Verstappen said. “it felt really, really nice.
“I already felt from the preparation we had that this was going to be a good track. You never really know how good it’s going to be, but from the lap one it’s been really nice.
“To be on pole here is fantastic.”
Piastri needed only his first lap to take his first front-row start for a grand prix – and his second P2 start after the same at the Belgian sprint – besting McLaren teammate Lando Norris by 0.035s.
“The first lap was pretty solid, I was quite happy with it,” he said. “On the second lap my first sector was good and the next two sectors not so good.
“Happy to end it in P2.
“It’s been a really good weekend for the team so far. We’ve got upgrades on the car, and they’re quick.
“We though we might have a decent chance around here. We’ve still got to make it happen. Happy to be second and for the team to be second and third – very happy.
“First time I’ve started on the front row for a while. It’ll be cool. There’s only one car ahead to overtake, so I’ll try to make it happen.”
Norris only just held third in a tight qualifying session, pipping Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc by only 0.049s despite the Monegasque having only one set of tires for the pole-setting session.
“It’s been a very good day for us as a team,” he said. “A great job by Oscar today, a good day for us to be P2 and P3.
“I was pretty happy with my laps … it’s not an easy circuit to put everything together always – the smallest mistake can make a big amount of lap time.”
“I’m happy. It’s been a good day, and it’s a good position for tomorrow.”
Leclerc will start fourth with teammate Carlos Sainz 0.308s further back in sixth, the pair sandwiching Sergio Perez in the second Red Bull Racing car, the Mexican 0.773s off the pace.
Lewis Hamilton beat George Russell in seventh and eighth for Mercedes, the pair separated by more than 0.3s and down more than a second on the pole time.
Yuki Tsunoda was excellent to give his home crowd ninth on the grid to cheer for, beating Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso by more than 0.2s to complete the top 10.
Liam Lawson missed out on a second consecutive Q3 berth by just 0.043s for 11th place, pipping Alpine’s Pierre Gasly for the position by only 0.001s.
Williams driver Alex Albon will start 14th ahead of Esteban Ocon, while Kevin Magnussen will line up 15th for Haas.
Valtteri Bottas will start 16th for Alfa Romeo ahead of Lance Stroll in his comeback weekend following his withdrawal from the Singapore Grand Prix with soreness.
Haas driver Nico Hulkenberg justified his team’s expectations for a painful weekend with 18th ahead of Zhou Guanyu, who complained he was blocked on his final flying lap, leaving him half a second down on a Q2 time. Sargeant was last without a lap time following his crash.