A “fired-up” Max Verstappen sent a warning to the rest of the grid that Red Bull are back on form as he set a searing pace to top the first two practice sessions at the Japanese Grand Prix.

Verstappen’s record 10-race winning run and Red Bull’s unbeaten season came to a shuddering halt last weekend in Singapore, where the team admitted they did not understand their struggles with the car’s set-up around the street circuit.

The 25-year-old was confident of a return to form around the high-speed corner track at Suzuka, where Lewis Hamilton predicted the Red Bull would be “phenomenal”, but all eyes were on the Dutchman who is closing in on a hat-trick of world titles.

His response to the struggles of Singapore was immediate and emphatic, finishing 0.626 seconds clear of Ferrari’s Singapore-winner Carlos Sainz in P1 before beating Charles Leclerc by 0.320sec in P2.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said: “He dealt with (Singapore) very maturely.

“It was a difficult weekend but he raced very hard. It was what it was. He knew at some point we were going to get beaten and he dealt with the situation well.

“He has certainly come here pretty fired up as you could see from his outlap in P1 today.

“Max knew it was always going to come to an end at some point. That 10th victory meant a lot to him and certainly to the team so I’m glad Singapore wasn’t the 10th in that succession of races. I think he has just shown great leadership and great maturity.”

The second session was red-flagged with a little over two minutes remaining when Pierre Gasly crashed heavily into the barriers at Degner Two, bringing a premature end to the session.

McLaren had been tipped to be the closest challengers to Red Bull and Verstappen this weekend, with Mercedes’ George Russell even suggesting the British team could be favourites.

Lando Norris showed strong pace to finish the day third, albeit 0.464sec off the pace, while Oscar Piastri, who signed a contract extension earlier this week, claimed eighth in the second McLaren.

Red Bull will almost certainly clinch the Constructors’ Championship this weekend at the home race for their engine supplier Honda.

But Sergio Perez was over a second off the pace of his team-mate, finishing 11th in P1 and ninth in P2.

Fernando Alonso claimed sixth for Aston Martin ahead of the Williams of Alex Albon.

Mercedes pair Russell and Hamilton struggled in the opening session, finishing a lowly 13th and 16th respectively, with chief race engineer Andrew Shovlin admitting the team had work to do on the car setup.

Russell claimed fifth in P2 but Hamilton was only 14th, with the seven-time world champion a huge 1.141sec adrift off the pace.

Max Verstappen appears set to return to form at the Japanese Grand Prix after posting a blistering time in the opening practice session.

Verstappen’s record 10-race winning run and Red Bull’s unbeaten season came to a shuddering halt last weekend in Singapore, where the team admitted they did not understand their struggles with the car’s set-up around the street circuit.

Lewis Hamilton warned on Thursday the Red Bull car would be “phenomenal” around the high-speed corner circuit at Suzuka and, while practice times must always be treated with caution, it appears the runaway championship leader could dominate again this weekend.

Verstappen, who is closing in on a hat-trick of world titles, was the first car out on track and it took the Dutchman just a handful of laps to set the fastest time in every sector.

He finished the opening running 0.626 seconds clear of Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, who clinched victory in Singapore.

McLaren had been tipped to be the closest challengers to Red Bull this weekend with George Russell even suggesting they could be favourites.

Lando Norris delivered an impressive final lap to clinch third for the British team, ahead of the second Ferrari of Charles Leclerc and home favourite Yuki Tsunoda in the AlphaTauri.

Oscar Piastri, who extended his McLaren contract this week, claimed seventh just behind the Aston Martin of Fernando Alonso.

Red Bull will almost certainly clinch the Constructors’ Championship this weekend at the home race for their engine supplier Honda.

But Verstappen’s team-mate Sergio Perez finished only 11th and a massive 1.396sec adrift of the pace-setter.

The second practice session gets under way at 1500 local time (0700 BST).

The father of the late Formula One driver Jules Bianchi strongly criticised an incident that saw Pierre Gasly nearly collide with a tractor during Sunday's Japanese Grand Prix.

The race in torrential conditions saw a number of first-lap crashes, with the safety car coming in almost immediately.

And after the race was red-flagged on lap three, Gasly came close to hitting a tractor that was attempting to recover Carlos Sainz's crashed Ferrari just seconds after drivers were notified of the red flag.

Bianchi was the last F1 driver to suffer a fatal crash, having done so in a similar incident when he hit a recovery vehicle, also at the Japanese Grand Prix.

And Sunday's incident provoked widespread criticism, including from Bianchi's father.

"No respect for the life of the driver," Philippe Bianchi said in an Instagram caption. "No respect for Jules' memory. Incredible."

The event also sparked furious reaction from current drivers, with Gasly himself saying "I could have f****** killed myself" while Red Bull's Sergio Perez called it "the lowest point we've seen in the sport for years."

Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto has described Charles Leclerc's five-second penalty at the Japanese Grand Prix – which handed Max Verstappen his second Formula One world title – as "ridiculous and unacceptable".

Verstappen sealed consecutive championships by winning a rain-shortened race at Suzuka on Sunday – though it initially appeared he would have to wait after Leclerc crossed the line in second. 

However, Leclerc's late move to stay ahead of Sergio Perez landed him a five-second penalty, putting the Ferrari man third and unable to catch Verstappen in the drivers' standings.

Speaking to Sky Sports following the bizarre conclusion, a furious Binotto contrasted Sunday's immediate decision to penalise Leclerc with the long delay required to hand Perez a similar sanction in Singapore last week. 

"The decision of the five-second penalty to Leclerc is ridiculous and unacceptable, it is something that does not make sense," he said.

"Leclerc did not gain position or time, when we saw the note, we were calm. This time it was decided without even listening to the drivers, unlike Singapore.

"Incredible decision, which is not clear: two identical infractions and two different penalties seven days apart."

Race organisers have also come under fire after Pierre Gasly narrowly avoided a high-speed collision with a tractor, which was recovering Carlos Sainz's crashed Ferrari after a series of early collisions.

Binotto also made reference to that incident as he warned poor management of the sport could harm its reputation.

"Then the start in those conditions, the crane on the track… this shows that the moment is difficult [for F1]," Binotto continued. "The risk is to lose the credibility of the sport.

"We have to understand how to improve the situation, because this management is not going well."

Max Verstappen struck a philosophical tone as he celebrated a second Formula One drivers' title, admitting this could be as good as it gets for him.

The 25-year-old Dutchman has been dominant in the 2022 season, with his 12th race win in 18 races coming at the Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday.

It came in curious fashion, with Verstappen initially moving only to the brink of the title with victory. His triumph was confirmed later, when a penalty was imposed on second-placed finisher Charles Leclerc, nudging the Ferrari driver down to third place in the race and giving Verstappen an unassailable championship lead.

He has wrapped up the title with four races to spare, and Verstappen might go on to be the leading light in many more seasons to come. Indeed, it would be a surprise if he does not; but great drivers from years gone by have not necessarily stacked up the titles expected of them.

Fernando Alonso, for one, captured titles in 2005 and 2006 but has not added to those back-to-back successes.

Verstappen is conscious that the car must be right, so he is determined to make the most of Red Bull equipping him with a formidable set of wheels, for as long as that lasts.

"I've got four race weekends at least to celebrate," he said. "There is no real pressure any more, but I still want to of course try and win more races, because with the car we have now you have to try and take advantage of that.

"You don't know if you're ever going to have that again, next year, in the years to come. So, we'll definitely try to win a few more."

Verstappen already accepts that following up the 2022 performance will be a lot to ask of Red Bull and their driver team.

Because of Leclerc's five-second penalty, Verstappen's team-mate Sergio Perez took second place at Suzuka, and also sits second in the championship, some 113 points behind the champion.

Red Bull are emphatically the team to beat, but many teams have been in such a position across the history of Formula One, and what history tells us is that a rival will at some stage overhaul them.

Next season will be a 24-race slog, two races longer than this campaign, and that will test all the teams.

"Yeah, it's going to be a long season," Verstappen said. "I thought this one was already pretty long – but we'll see. We're going to try and prepare for next year as good as we can.

"Then we'll try to get it as close as we can to this year, because replicating something like this will be very tough – but I have a lot of good hope within the people in the team that we can create again a really good car."

Sergio Perez considered an incident when a tractor appeared on the track ahead of Pierre Gasly at the Japanese Grand Prix "the lowest point" in Formula One "for years".

Dreadful conditions in Suzuka saw a series of crashes on the first lap on Sunday, with the safety car almost immediately introduced.

The race was then red-flagged on lap three, but Gasly passed a tractor – seemingly recovering Carlos Sainz's crashed Ferrari – as he was still driving around the track, with the incident appearing to occur just seconds after drivers had been notified of the red flag.

As the cars returned to the pit lane and waited for the rain to ease, a number of drivers took to social media to angrily point out how dangerous that moment was.

Jules Bianchi was the last F1 driver to suffer a fatal crash, which happened in Japan in 2014 when he hit a recovery vehicle.

"That's the lowest point we've seen in the sport for years," Red Bull's Perez said. "What happened today just makes me so angry.

"I just hope ever in the sport we never get to see this situation ever again. It's putting all the drivers at risk.

"We saw what happened here a few years ago with our friend Jules, and absolutely I don't care about what was the reason for that. It should never happen again, ever in any category."

Gasly was later handed a 20-second penalty by the FIA for speeding under red flag conditions, but he described his fear as he encountered the tractor.

"We lost Jules already," Gasly said. "We all lost an amazing guy, an amazing driver for the reasons that we know – eight years ago, on the same track, in the same conditions, with a crane.

"How? How today can we see a crane not even on the gravel, on the race track while we are still on the track? I don't understand that.

"Obviously, I got scared; obviously, if I would have lost the car in a similar way that Carlos lost it in the lap before, it doesn't matter the speed – 200, 100 – I would have just died. It's as simple as that.

"I don't understand. It's disrespectful to Jules, disrespectful to his family."

The AlphaTauri man added: "I'm just extremely grateful that I'm here. Tonight, I'm going to call my family and all my loved ones.

"The outcome is the way that it is because I passed two metres from that crane. If I would have been two metres to the left, I would have been dead."

Lewis Hamilton is adamant Mercedes will have a better car next season that should allow them to provide a greater challenge to Red Bull after Max Verstappen wrapped up the 2022 Formula One title.

Verstappen won a second successive championship on Sunday thanks to victory in the Japanese Grand Prix combined with his rival Charles Leclerc receiving a five-second penalty that demoted him to third.

Initially there was confusion over whether full points were to be awarded as the normal race distance was not completed due to a lengthy rain delay, with even Verstappen suggesting the title was not his yet at first.

After several minutes, Verstappen's success was confirmed as the Dutchman retained his crown with four races to spare, far more straightforward than last season when he only moved ahead of Hamilton at the end of a controversial final grand prix.

But Mercedes have never really been a threat to Verstappen this year, with George Russell fourth in the standings and Hamilton a further two places down the ladder – neither driver has claimed a single victory in 2022.

Hamilton congratulated Verstappen afterwards but swiftly turned his attention to 2023, optimistic Mercedes can build a car that is not dogged by the design issues the W13 car has had following the introduction of new technical regulations.

"Congrats to Max," Hamilton said, before refocusing on Mercedes.

"I think for us, we know what the problems are with this car. I believe that we as a team, we've not gone from being world champions to not being able to build a good car.

"I have no doubts we'll build a better car next year.

"Whether or not we rectify every issue from the car this year, we'll find out when we get there."

Hamilton finished fifth in Suzuka, spending much of the shortened race stuck behind Esteban Ocon, who held on to take fourth.

Despite what many might have perceived as a frustrating day for the seven-time world champion, Hamilton insisted he had "a blast".

"I don't feel frustrated," he told Sky Sports. "It was a sprint race. I think I did the best I could and I'm happy we got some points.

"We were just so slow in a straight line. I was getting close, as close as I could, and as soon as I pulled out, they would just pull away.

"I wish it was a longer race. I'm glad we got some laps for the fans here, although it's not really a massive race for them considering how long they've waited.

"In terms of the conditions, the restarting was awesome. That's what motor racing is about. I had a blast. It was so tough, so hard to see. Really hard to see the car skating around, but that's motor racing.

"I think the restart we had at the end was the perfect time and I just wish we could have gone longer into a bit of the dark."

F1 now heads to the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas for the United States Grand Prix on October 23.

Christian Horner described Max Verstappen's title triumph as "beyond all our dreams" as he noted the Formula One champion's growth from his first success in 2021.

Verstappen sealed a second consecutive title by winning the Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday – his championship belatedly confirmed by a penalty for Charles Leclerc that left the Ferrari driver in third, out of reach of top spot as full points were awarded despite a rain delay.

The Dutchman was informed of his triumph only after his parc ferme interview, with the Red Bull team hurriedly checking the regulations and discovering he had moved clear of both team-mate Sergio Perez and Leclerc.

Team principal Horner explained to Sky Sports: "We thought it wasn't going to be full points awarded. We thought we were one point short. We were looking at pitting him for the fastest lap and so on.

"Wow, that's beyond all our dreams.

"Max has been truly, truly dominant. That's our 14th victory, a record for us, and the way he has driven since the first race...

"We came back from some difficulties in the first couple of races, but he and the team have just raised it to another level.

"I'm incredibly proud of everything he's done, everything the team's done. They've gone way beyond under massive pressure. To achieve this championship is truly special."

Verstappen's first title came in controversial circumstances last year as he edged Lewis Hamilton in a contentious decider.

But Horner believes his superstar driver is now operating in a class of his own.

"I think Max has grown from that first world championship," he said. "The way he's driven, the way he's operated this year has just been at another level.

"All respect to him, because he truly deserves this championship."

Ultimately, Perez was the man who made sure of Verstappen's success, tussling with Leclerc to prompt the final-lap penalty that completed the job.

"What a script," Horner added. "To get that victory here in Japan with Honda, as well, is really special.

"Charles obviously made a mistake at the end and the penalty was given, but it's fantastic for Checo. He's done a super job today."

Max Verstappen may not have immediately known he was again Formula One champion on Sunday, but a dominant season made this triumph "more beautiful" than the last for the Dutchman.

Verstappen has won consecutive titles in slightly confusing fashion, even if his 2022 success was long anticipated.

When the Red Bull superstar pipped Lewis Hamilton in 2021, it was after a highly controversial restart in the season finale as both drivers took the fight right down to the wire.

This time, Verstappen headed into the Japanese Grand Prix knowing he was almost certain to be celebrating again at some stage.

He could complete the job at Suzuka by finishing eight points ahead of Charles Leclerc and six ahead of Sergio Perez – an outcome he unknowingly achieved.

Leclerc was given a five-second penalty after the race to finish behind Perez, meaning Verstappen was champion when Red Bull clocked full points would be awarded due to the race resuming after a red flag, despite only half of the grand prix being completed.

It was an odd way to learn of the success, but Verstappen was able to reflect on the year as a whole, having contributed to 12 of Red Bull's team-record 14 wins.

Of his two titles, Verstappen said: "I think the first one is always a little more emotional, but the second one is probably more beautiful with the season we've had – the wins, the great racing, the teamwork, the one-twos.

"Also we're leading the constructors' so we really want to focus on that as well to try to secure that.

"It's been a pretty special year. It's something you really have to remind yourself of, because these kind of years you don't have very often."

Summing up his emotions, Verstappen added: "It's crazy. I have very mixed emotions, of course, winning the race and also, looking back now, winning the championship. What a year we've had so far.

"It's been incredible and something I never could have imagined happening after last year, already fighting to the end and then having such a good car again this year.

"I'm so thankful to everyone who has been contributing to this success. The whole team that is here but also back in the factory room is working flat out, and they're never missing any motivation to try to make the car faster.

"Besides that, the work we've done together with Honda, all the way through, every year, constantly improving rapidly.

"To win now twice is very emotional, especially here [at Honda's home race and with the Japanese fans], with everyone watching.

"It gives you a little bit more pressure, but it's good pressure, positive pressure. I'm very proud that we could do it here."

Max Verstappen learned he had sealed another Formula One world title only after winning a rain-shortened Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday.

It had appeared Verstappen would be made to wait until Austin to confirm a second consecutive championship, as his hopes of getting the job done at Suzuka were rocked by heavy rain.

Even when Verstappen crossed the line in first place with just over half the race completed, title rival Charles Leclerc looked to have clung on to second to delay his title celebrations.

But Leclerc's late move to stay ahead of Sergio Perez landed him a five-second penalty, putting the Ferrari man in third and no longer within reach of Verstappen.

The victory for Verstappen moved him clear of Red Bull team-mate Perez, too, and the Dutchman was informed of his triumph only after his initial parc ferme interview.

It made for a bizarre conclusion to a long and controversial day, with initial attempts to start the race lasting mere minutes.

The safety car was out by the end of a first lap that had seen Leclerc briefly get ahead of pole-sitter Verstappen, only to trail again by Turn 1.

A series of incidents behind them in the awful conditions led to a yellow flag, and proceedings were red-flagged by the third lap.

The delay that followed lasted more than two hours, with Verstappen eventually resuming behind the safety car with only 45 minutes available in the race's three-hour window.

A sprint to the finish was without any drama at the front, though, and the title was instead decided by the battle for second as Leclerc left the track and then forced Perez wide.

Max Verstappen won the Formula One world title on Sunday with victory at the Japanese Grand Prix.

The Red Bull driver claimed his second consecutive drivers' standings triumph when a penalty after the race confirmed his rival Charles Leclerc was demoted to third place.

Pierre Gasly was furious as he suggested he was put in danger by a recovery tractor at the rain-disrupted Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday.

The race at Suzuka lasted less than a lap under a downpour before a safety car was brought out, with a red flag soon following after a number of early incidents.

Among them, AlphaTauri's Gasly – who has just agreed a move to Alpine – made contact with an advertising board, which then became lodged in his front wing, further impacting his already reduced visibility.

But Gasly was still driving behind the safety car when he passed a tractor on the track recovering Carlos Sainz's car.

"I could have f***ing killed myself," Gasly fumed.

The most recent fatal accident in Formula One occurred at Suzuka in 2014 when Jules Bianchi collided with a recovery vehicle in wet conditions.

A widely reported FIA response sought to explain the incident with Gasly, saying the race had been red-flagged by the time he encountered the tractor.

"The safety car had been deployed and the race neutralised," the FIA said. "Car 10, which had collected damage and pitted behind the safety car, was then driving at high speed to catch up to the field.

"As conditions were deteriorating, the red flag was shown before Car 10 passed the location of the incident where it had been damaged the previous lap."

The incident was set to be reviewed again after the race, which still had not restarted an hour after the red flag.

Max Verstappen believes he needs a "perfect race" to secure victory at the Japanese Grand Prix and with it a second successive Formula One world title, despite qualifying on pole.

Verstappen holds a 96-point lead in the drivers' championship as what once looked like being a fascinating battle with Ferrari's Charles Leclerc has instead turned into a procession.

The Red Bull driver's retention of the title he wrested from Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton last season is now an inevitability.

It is matter of when and not if Verstappen wins the drivers' championship, and he put himself in the box seat to do it at Suzuka by claiming pole for a race being held for the first time since 2019, the coronavirus pandemic having seen the 2020 and 2021 races cancelled.

He set a time of one minute and 29.304 seconds and avoided a grid penalty following an investigation into a Q3 near-miss with McLaren's Lando Norris.

But Verstappen refuses to get complacent even with a second title in touching distance. A win and the fastest lap bonus point will seal the championship and Verstappen would also clinch it if he wins without the fastest lap and Leclerc finishes lower than second.

"I'm not thinking about it too much. What was most important was we had a competitive car," said Verstappen. 

"We had that in qualifying and I hope it will be the same in the race because we do need a perfect race to win it. But at least it is a good start."

The weather could dampen Verstappen's hopes of a title party on Sunday, with rain forecast at the end of a weekend that saw Friday's running in practice washed out.

"We're going a little bit into the unknown," said Leclerc as he looks to extend the one-sided title fight to the United States Grand Prix after finishing 0.010 seconds behind Verstappen.

"But it looks like the conditions are also a little bit unpredictable. We don't really know whether it is going to rain or not, or maybe both. We will see."

While the conditions may be tough to judge, it is fair to say Mercedes are unlikely to compete for the win unless inclement weather arrives.

Hamilton qualified sixth while George Russell was down in eighth, the latter over a second off Verstappen's pace.

"The Red Bull is still quicker on the straight with no DRS than we are with DRS," Hamilton said. 

"Rain opens up more opportunity. It could be not the most exciting race if it's dry, at least not for us."

Max Verstappen was reprimanded following a stewards' enquiry after an incident involving Lando Norris, but will remain in pole position for this weekend's Japanese Grand Prix.

The Red Bull driver boosted his chances of wrapping up a second successive world title with four races to spare after claiming his fifth pole of the campaign in Suzuka.

However, Verstappen had to wait for confirmation that he had avoided a grid penalty after stewards reviewed a near-miss between the reigning world champion and McLaren driver Norris during the early stages of Q3.

As both drivers conducted out-laps, Norris rounded 130R to begin a push lap, but was forced onto the grass to avoid a collision after Verstappen suddenly darted to the left under acceleration.

The stewards' report read: "The driver of car one (Verstappen) was aware of car 55 (Sainz) in front and car four (Norris) approaching from behind and decided to accelerate at precisely the same time as car four decided to overtake car one.

"Unfortunately, due to lack of tyre temperature on car one, the driver temporarily lost control of the car causing it to 'snap' anti-clockwise.

"The driver of car four stated that this was simply an unfortunate incident, however it is the driver's responsibility to at all times maintain control of their car.

"Regarding penalty, all previous breaches of this nature have resulted in a reprimand, hence a similar penalty is imposed in this case."

Verstappen said of the incident: "We were all on our out-lap – all lining up to try and create a gap to everyone – and somehow he still wanted to get me into the chicane.

"I was at the point of accelerating, but I was on very cold tyres, so I had a little moment and that’s why he had to drive around me.

"If you are just a bit more respectful, then everyone is anyway already lining up. I don't think anyone is trying to pass into that last chicane, so basically, by trying to pass me, you create that kind of problem."

Max Verstappen was delighted as he boosted his chances of sealing the Formula One World Championship this weekend after taking pole at the Japanese Grand Prix, although he will await the result of a stewards' investigation. 

The Red Bull driver claimed his fifth pole of the season after edging out Charles Leclerc by just 0.010 seconds, while the latter's Ferrari team-mate Carlos Sainz completed the top three.

Stewards will be investigating an incident involving Verstappen and Lando Norris during the early stages of Q3, with the McLaren driver forced onto the grass to avoid contact on the slow lap after the reigning world champion darted left under acceleration at the exit of 130R.

The Dutchman's time of 1:29.304s eventually proved enough as he increased his chances of wrapping up a second successive title this weekend in Suzuka, where F1 returns for the first time since 2019.

Leclerc and Sainz fell narrowly short in their quests to surpass Verstappen, who revealed his excitement at being back in Japan.

"It was pretty incredible to drive here again, especially in qualifying when you are on low fuel – these cars really come alive through the first sector," Verstappen said.

"Of course, [I'm] very happy to be on pole, but also in general just super happy to be back here.

"It will be interesting first of all to see [what happens with] the weather [on race day]. Some say it will be dry, some say it will be raining at some point during the race. I'm quite confident we have a good car, so [I'm] excited for tomorrow."

Leclerc added: "It's a very tricky lap round here. If you are fast in the first sector, you miss out in the final sector. It's so close with everyone, so we'll try to have a good race from there."


1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 1:29.304
2. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) +0.010s
3. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) +0.057s
4. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) +0.405s
5. Esteban Ocon (Alpine) +0.861s
6. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +0.957s
7. Fernando Alonso (Alpine) +1.018s
8. George Russell (Mercedes) +1.085s
9. Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin) +1.250s
10. Lando Norris (McLaren Mercedes) +1.699s

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