Formula 1: Verstappen takes Japanese GP pole

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Red Bull Racing's Dutch driver Max Verstappen (R) poses after taking the pole position after the qualifying session of the Formula One Japan Grand Prix held at the Suzuka Circuit in Suzuka City, Japan, on Oct. 8, 2022. (Xinhua/Zhang Xiaoyu)

Red Bull's Max Verstappen took the pole position for the F1 Japanese Grand Prix here on Saturday and stayed on the right track to retain his world title.

Zhou Guanyu, China's first full-time F1 driver, missed the third qualifying session, finishing 14th with his Alfa Romeo car equipped with a new front wing. His teammate Valtteri Bottas was 12th.

Verstappen clocked one minute 29.304 seconds, beating Ferrari's Charles Leclerc by 0.010 seconds. Carlos Sainz, also of Ferrari, was third and Red Bull's Sergio Perez finished fourth.

It was the Dutchman's fifth pole position this season even though most of his 11 titles were not won by starting first.

"I'm very happy to be on pole, but also in general just super happy to be back here," he said of the Suzuka race held for the first time in three years. "I'm quite confident we have a good car, so I'm excited for tomorrow."

Verstappen narrowly escaped a crash in the third qualifying session with McLaren's Lando Norris, who was forced to take avoiding action when the Red Bull darted left under acceleration.

Verstappen was later handed a reprimand after the stewards' investigation but fortunately kept his pole position.

Verstappen will clinch the title for the second straight season if he wins the race with the fastest lap.

Zhou was 10th during the first qualifying session but lacked that extra pace needed to make the third one.

"I am happy with everything I did," he said. "It is better than I expected."

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