June 14, 2024
Sergio Pérez

As the minutes ticked down in the third portion of qualifying Saturday at the Japanese Grand Prix, a question from Lewis Hamilton perhaps told the story. Informed by his team that his lap time was half a second slower than the time posted by Max Verstappen, the seven-time Drivers’ Champion lamented simply:

“Where’s that half second, man?”

Lewis Hamilton was not the only driver left mystified by what the Red Bulls were doing. A number of his rivals, such as Fernando Alonso and Charles Leclerc, were left wondering what else they could do to catch the team at the front. Verstappen captured pole position for the third-straight year at Suzuka, and teammate Sergio Pérez, under pressure to deliver after Lando Norris put his MCL38 on the front row early in Q3 alongside Verstappen, turned in an absolute banger of a lap in the closing seconds, to lockout the front row for Red Bull.

After Carlos Sainz Jr.’s spectacular return to the grid in Australia, which saw the Ferrari driver best the field for his first win of the season, many wondered if the field was perhaps catching Red Bull, and if the door was open — even if just a crack — for a challenger to truly put the Bulls under pressure.

Saturday at Suzuka under the cherry blossoms Verstappen, Pérez, and Red Bull seemed to slam that door shut.

For three-plus seasons the team, and Verstappen in particular, have left their challengers mystified.

This weekend is shaping up to be more of the same.

“If I rely on the feeling, it’s pretty good,” described Leclerc following qualifying before adding:

“If I look at the lap times, it’s a disaster.”

Here are the full qualifying results from the Japanese Grand Prix, as well as some more winners and losers from Saturday.
https://x.com/F1/status/1776509040899584262

Winners: McLaren
At first blush, seeing Lando Norris in P3 and Oscar Piastri in P6 might not scream “winners.”

But something Norris said in the post-qualifying press conference should give the rest of the pack chasing Red Bull something to think about.

“I think if we kind of look back to where we were last year we were even further away, I think five tenths off of pole. And this is the first track we’ve come back to, which is where we had our upgrades last season,” explained Norris. “So I think it’s our best comparison of how we’ve improved over the winter and we’re quite a bit closer. So I think that’s a very good sign.”

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