SUZUKA, Japan — Max Verstappen has declared the once-enthralling world championship battle is well and truly over after Lewis Hamilton claimed pole position at the Japanese Grand Prix and Sebastian Vettel was left ruing another costly error.
Ferrari opted to send Vettel out on intermediate tyres in Q3 despite a dry track and as a result he missed the window to set his flying lap, eventually winding up in P9. Meanwhile, Hamilton lit up the timing screens on the super-soft compound to secure his 80th career pole position and put himself in a prime position to extend his 50 point championship lead that has been growing ever since Vettel crashed out of July’s German Grand Prix.
Verstappen took advantage of Ferrari’s misjudgement to qualify third on the grid and when asked in parc ferme what his thoughts were on getting amongst the two who are battling for the world championship on Sunday, the Dutchman smiled and said: “Is it still a battle? I’m not sure.”
He may be starting third but Verstappen’s best lap was still 1.297s adrift of Hamilton’s pole lap and 0.988s behind Valtteri Bottas in P2. While he doesn’t believe Red Bull have the pace to challenge the Mercedes duo on Sunday, he was pleased to overcome a number of issues that held him back during Friday practice.
“I honestly don’t think we can take the fight [to Mercedes],” Verstappen said. “If Ferrari had [not made the mistake] it would have been hard to beat them but we made the right call in Q3 and that’s why we’re third.
“After yesterday I was really not happy but today it was a lot better. I felt happier. It’s difficult to find a good compromise, losing quite a lot on the straights and then gaining a lot of downforce. It evens out a bit. I didn’t expect to start third, of course we have a bigger chance now to be on the podium.”