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Red Bull's Max Verstappen during qualifying at Formula One at Suzuka Circuit, Suzuka, Japan. Image Credit: Pool via REUTERS

Suzuka: Runaway championship leader Max Verstappen took pole position today for the Japanese Grand Prix as he attempts to clinch his second straight world title this weekend in Suzuka.

The Red Bull driver topped the timesheets in dry conditions with a time of 1min 29.304, just 0.010 secs ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, his nearest championship rival. Carlos Sainz was third in the other Ferrari.

But Verstappen could find himself in hot water after stewards said they would investigate an incident involving the Dutchman and McLaren’s Lando Norris.

Fastest lap

Norris was forced onto the grass to avoid hitting Verstappen, with the Red Bull driver muttering “unbelievable” over his team radio but later apologising.

Verstappen can clinch the title tomorrow if he wins the race with the fastest lap, no matter what his rivals do.

The Dutchman will also retain his crown if he wins and Leclerc is third or lower.

“It was incredible to drive here again and of course very happy to be on pole, but just super happy to be back here,” said Verstappen, whose car lost a chunk of bodywork on his last lap, after he ran wide on a section of the track.

“I lost a bit of my duct on that last lap which is why I didn’t improve. Tomorrow will be interesting with the weather.”

Showers are forecast for tomorrow.

“It’s a very tricky lap around here, I lost the tyres in the last section so lost some time,” said Leclerc after just losing out on pole.

Limited date

“We’ll try and have a good race, we have a very limited amount of data so that’s always a challenge. Let’s wait and see the conditions - should be a fun race.”

Sergio Perez, in the other Red Bull, was fourth.

AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly failed to make it past Q1 after an issue with his brakes.

The Frenchman, who announced earlier in the day that he will replace two-time world champion Fernando Alonso at Alpine next season, was furious.

“I feel we could have managed this situation a bit better,” Gasly told TV reporters.