‘Very, very happy’: Piastri secures front row in Japan, has Verstappen in his sights

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Formula One young gun Oscar Piastri will share the front row of the grid for the Japanese Grand Prix.

In the Australian’s debut season on motor racing’s greatest stage, Piastri joined Max Verstappen at the top of the time lists following the second qualifying session.

It’s the 22-year-old Melburnian’s best result in qualifying for McLaren despite being no match for Red Bull’s double world champion ahead of Sunday’s race at the Suzuka International Racing Course.

Oscar Piastri’s McLaren soars around the McLaren circuit.Credit: Getty Images

“We thought we would have a decent chance around here,” Piastri said.

“But you’ve still got to make it happen and (I’m) so happy to be second and the team second and third. Very, very happy.”

Piastri has Verstappen firmly in his sights.

“There is only one car ahead to try and overtake so I’ll try and make that happen,” he said.

Dutchman Verstappen topped all three practice sessions to suggest his UK-based team had banished the issues they experienced in Singapore.

His record 10-race winning run, and Red Bull’s unbeaten season, came to an end in the city-state last weekend.

Verstappen was imperious around the high-speed Suzuka circuit – where Lewis Hamilton warned the Red Bull would be “phenomenal” – taking pole by a massive 0.581 seconds ahead of Piastri.

“Incredible weekend so far, especially in qualifying when you can push it to the limit,” Verstappen said.

“We had a bad weekend in Singapore. I felt this was going to be a good track. From lap one it has been really nice.”

Piastri had never even been to Japan before this week but got the edge on his McLaren teammate Lando Norris to line up on the front row.

Red Bull will almost certainly clinch the constructors’ championship on Sunday at the home race of their engine supplier Honda.

Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez finished fifth, more than 0.7 seconds adrift of the pace-setter.

Hamilton and George Russell were well off the pace for Mercedes, who are battling with Ferrari to finish second in the constructors’ championship, and will line up seventh and eighth on the grid.

Ferrari, who are running a new floor at Suzuka, took fourth via Charles Leclerc, while Singapore-winner Carlos Sainz finished sixth.

Yuki Tsunoda was confirmed by AlphaTauri to be driving alongside Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo in 2024 and delighted his home crowd by making the top-10 shootout, finishing ninth.

Q1 was red-flagged with just over nine minutes remaining when Williams’ Logan Sargeant over steered out of the final corner and slid heavily into the barriers.

AAP with PA and DPA

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