Max Verstappen took pole position for Sunday’s Qatar Grand Prix as the indomitable Dutchman closes in on his third world title.

Verstappen will be crowned champion of the world if he finishes at least sixth in Saturday’s 19-lap race at the Lusail International Circuit.

And the Red Bull driver started his quest to become just the 11th driver in history to win the title on more than two occasions in typically irresistible fashion by clocking the fastest time in qualifying.

In terms of the championship mathematics, Verstappen’s pole lap for Sunday’s main event will be redundant if he secures three points in Saturday’s sprint – the starting order for which will be determined by a second qualifying session here on Saturday afternoon – or Sergio Perez fails finish inside the top three. The probability of both are high.

As Verstappen raced to top spot, with George Russell and Lewis Hamilton securing second and third on the grid for Mercedes, Perez failed to make it out of Q2.

His best lap, which would have been fast enough to see him sneak through to Q3, was deleted for exceeding track limits at turn five. Perez, in equal machinery to the driver dominating the sport, will start 13th on Sunday.

Perez threatened to fight Verstappen for the championship by winning two of the opening four rounds of the season, but the Mexican’s challenge has faded. He has not won since the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on April 30, with Verstappen winning 11 of the next dozen races.

Indeed, only a Singapore blip for Red Bull has thwarted this most one-sided of seasons for the Dutchman.

He bounced back in impressive fashion to win in Japan last time out and his form under the Lusail lights, 18 miles north of Doha, indicates he will wrap up his third championship in as many years in style.

Qualifying did not pass without incident for the 26-year-old following a duel with the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz, who, like Perez, was a surprise casualty in Q2.

“What is he doing, man?” Verstappen yelled over the radio. “He is defending. You see that? I almost crashed into him.” The stewards are investigating the Spaniard for erratic driving.

Verstappen then aborted his final lap after making a rare mistake, but his first effort was good enough for first place, and he is primed to celebrate his probable title triumph on Saturday by claiming his 14th win from the 17 rounds so far 24 hours later.

Behind Verstappen, Lando Norris looked to have taken second place, but his lap was scrubbed after he put all four wheels of his McLaren over the white line, relegating him to 10th.

Russell was bumped up to second, one place ahead of Norris’ McLaren team-mate Oscar Piastri. However, the Australian’s lap was also chalked off, dropping him to sixth and promoting Hamilton to third.

Mercedes will take some comfort from being best of the rest, but Russell still finished four tenths off Verstappen, with Hamilton half-a-second down.

George Russell believes Max Verstappen’s imminent third world title will carry less satisfaction than his 2021 championship triumph over Lewis Hamilton because he has not been cornered into a proper fight.

The imperious Dutchman, in his all-conquering Red Bull machine, has failed to win just three of the 16 rounds so far, and he is expected to sew up his latest championship in Saturday’s sprint round in Qatar. A sixth-placed finish in the 19-lap dash round the Lusail International Circuit is all he needs.

Verstappen saw off Hamilton in a title battle for the ages two years ago before following up his controversial maiden world crown with a second last year.

But on the eve of his third coronation, Russell, labelled a “d***head” by Verstappen after an on-track row in Azerbaijan earlier this year, said the lack of firm competition has allowed his rival to excel.

“When it comes to any great in any sport, if the pressure is not turned up, you are in for a comfortable ride,” Russell told the PA news agency ahead of this weekend’s Qatar Grand Prix. “And I am sure the 2021 championship fight was more satisfying for him because it was a true battle.

“He has been exceptional this year, and there is no doubt about that. Week-after-week he has performed at such a high level.

“But we see the strategy review before every race, and the prediction every weekend, is of him going off into the distance. He can drive at 90 per cent and still win with 10 seconds to spare, and he knows that.”

Russell, 25, only five months younger than Verstappen, excelled in his first season with Mercedes in 2022. He landed the team’s only pole position, sole win, and out-scored team-mate Hamilton.

But heading into the final six rounds of this campaign, he is eighth in the standings, 75 points and five places adrift of his fellow Englishman.

Russell was close to tears after he allowed a rare opportunity to win slip through his fingers in Singapore – a race where he crashed out on the last lap – before he was embroiled in a number of spiky radio exchanges at the previous round in Japan as he duelled with Hamilton. Russell, on a different strategy to his team-mate, was ultimately ordered aside.

However, the younger Briton insists Hamilton, 38, is not owed preferential treatment. He is also adamant that he can beat the seven-time world  champion in a title fight if Mercedes provide him with the tools to do so.

“Absolutely,” said Russell, who will be paired with Hamilton until at least the end of 2025. “When you are going up against the best of all time, you are testing yourself.

“People can easily criticise me, but every single Formula One driver has a direct comparison to their team-mate, and my judgement is against the best driver ever, so that is why I don’t mind what people say.

“I took pride in last year’s performance. I took pride in taking the team’s only pole and only win, and I took pride when, at the start of the year in my first six races with the team, I was ahead of him (Hamilton) in almost every single qualifying session.

“But that is not why I’m here. If I end my career tomorrow, I am not going to be singing and dancing about finishing ahead of Lewis Hamilton in the championship.

“I am here to win world titles and I am here to fight. There is an equal respect between the two of us and we are on equal terms. It doesn’t matter if you are Lewis, who is a seven-time world champion and has been here for 10 years, or me who is 18 months into my time with Mercedes.

“We are on a level playing field and you only gain that respect by the performances you show on track and that respect has been earned.”

Hamilton may be on the longest losing streak of his career – 39 races have passed since he last entered the winner’s circle at the penultimate round in Saudi Arabia nearly two years ago – but he remains the grid’s biggest star.

“It is challenging for him when there are always the lights and cameras around, and rightly so,” added Russell, speaking in the Mercedes motorhome with Hamilton a few tables away.

“But we have had many occasions where we have just been one-on-one. Even in Suzuka last week we sat down and had dinner together for about two hours and chatted about things that two blokes would speak about down the pub. I feel like a normal person and when you take him out of the crazy environment he is just a normal person.

“It can be difficult to let your hair down. You are always on guard. And he is obviously very conscious of that. But when you are in a safe environment he is a great bloke, we get along, and it feels very normal.”

And what of next year? Will Russell, Hamilton and Mercedes be able to stop the Verstappen juggernaut?

“There was quote from (four-time world champion) Sebastian (Vettel) where he said ‘enjoy it, because it doesn’t last forever’,” concluded Russell. “We will get our chance and we have to be ready for it.

“What are Red Bull are going to do? Who knows? Of course they are favourites for next year. But it is down to us to wake up every morning, look in the mirror, and say ‘we need to bring our A-game every single day’, and if we do that we can give them a run for their money.”

Christian Horner knew Max Verstappen was ready to return to winning ways from his aggression in a game of padel tennis as the Dutchman moved to the brink of a third world title with victory at the Japanese Grand Prix.

Verstappen was imperious around the high-speed corner circuit at Suzuka, beating McLaren’s Lando Norris by over 19 seconds as Red Bull sealed the constructors’ championship with a record six races to spare.

The 25-year-old’s record 10-race winning run and Red Bull’s unbeaten season was ended in Singapore a week ago, but he hit back in style.

Verstappen is now within touching distance of a hat-trick of world titles, extending his lead over team-mate Sergio Perez to 177 points, and could even win it in the Saturday Qatar sprint race in two weeks’ time.

“I played padel tennis with Max on Wednesday and he was properly fired up and made it clear ‘I want to win the race by 20 seconds’ and in fairness he came within 0.7 of a second of achieving that,” team principal Horner said.

“You could tell from the very first lap in practice one that he was totally focused on this event.

“It is a circuit that he loves and enjoys. It was an outstanding performance. His laps in qualifying yesterday, particularly that final lap has to be up there with one of the best laps of all-time in qualifying.

“Max is absolutely at the top of his game, he is the best driver in F1 at this point in time.

“He’s just got this inner hunger, determination and huge ability. He doesn’t get distracted by the trappings of F1. He is an out-and-out racer. If he is not racing in the real world he is racing in the virtual world.

“He’s a winner and he loves winning. You’ve seen that competitive spirit at its utmost this weekend.”

Red Bull are the first team in Formula One history to win the team championship with six races to spare as Verstappen’s victory moved the Milton Keynes-based team 318 points clear of second-placed Mercedes in the standings. It is Red Bull’s sixth constructors’ title since their debut season in F1 in 2005.

They clinched it at the track owned by their engine supplier Honda, with Horner paying tribute to the entire team.

“To achieve this sixth constructors’ championship is beyond our wildest dreams. Coming into the season I don’t think we could have ever dreamt of having a year like this,” Horner added.

“Last year was a very strong year for us but to have kept that momentum rolling through the year that we have had is testimony to all the men and women in the team that have worked tirelessly.

“To repeat a season like this, to do better than we are doing is impossible. We are riding a wave and we want to ride that wave as long as we can.

“It is very fitting that we have won the championship here on the 75th anniversary of Honda at their circuit at Suzuka.”

While Verstappen coasted to the win, it was a tough day for Perez, who broke two front wings and was handed two penalties before retiring on lap 15.

He then came back into the race briefly on lap 40 before retiring again, with the team keen for him to serve his outstanding penalty rather than suffer in Qatar.

“It was just a disastrous weekend,” Perez said.

McLaren showed further signs of their progress by comfortably beating Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc to seal second and third – with Oscar Piastri picking up his first F1 podium.

“Another amazing day for us. A P2 and P3, so we couldn’t have asked for anymore,” Norris said.

“We are pushing, we are getting there. The progress we’ve made is pretty outstanding.”

Max Verstappen moved to within range of a hat-trick of world titles by returning to winning ways at the Japanese Grand Prix as Red Bull clinched the constructors’ championship.

The Dutchman backed up his searing pace in qualifying by easing to victory by a massive 19.387 seconds a week on from seeing his record 10-race winning run ended in Singapore.

Lando Norris finished second ahead of McLaren team-mate Oscar Piastri and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, with Lewis Hamilton fifth and George Russell seventh for Mercedes.

Verstappen has won 13 of 16 rounds this season, extending his lead to 177 points over team-mate Sergio Perez – who endured a miserable afternoon – and he will have the chance to wrap up his third title at the Qatar Grand Prix in two weeks, potentially even in the Saturday sprint by outscoring Perez by three points or more.

While it was serene at the front, the race behind was thrilling as Perez was involved in two early collisions before retiring – only to briefly return – and Mercedes team-mates Hamilton and Russell scrapped with each other.

Red Bull are the first team in Formula One history to win the team championship with six races to spare as Verstappen’s victory moved the Milton Keynes-based team 318 clear of second-placed Mercedes in the standings. It is Red Bull’s sixth constructors’ title since their debut season in F1 in 2005.

Norris predicted after qualifying that if Verstappen led after the 277-metre dash down to turn one, there would be nothing the rest of the field could do.

The McLarens put up a strong fight, sandwiching Verstappen as Norris surged around the outside to go second, but the pole-sitter emerged from the first corner ahead.

Perez was overtaken by Ferrari’s Singapore winner Carlos Sainz and drifted into Hamilton, forcing the seven-time world champion onto the grass.

The safety car was deployed before the end of the first lap due to debris on the track after heavy contact between Valtteri Bottas and Alex Albon.

Perez pitted under the safety car on lap three to replace a damaged front wing and fit the hard tyres but re-joined 17th.

The race resumed on lap five and Verstappen blasted clear of Norris.

Perez’s miserable start continued as he was handed a five-second penalty for overtaking under the safety car as he entered the pits.

It soon went from bad to worse as he suffered more front-wing damage in a collision with Kevin Magnussen, forcing him to pit again on lap 13, and was given another five-second penalty for causing the contact.

The Mexican was put out of his misery on lap 15 as Red Bull retired the car. Remarkably he was briefly sent back onto the track on lap 40, with the team keen for him to serve his outstanding penalty.

Elsewhere it was a story of battling team-mates.

Hamilton was soon engaged in a thrilling scrap with Russell, who slid up the inside at the final corner but Hamilton blasted back ahead down the pit straight.

The battle soon resumed as Hamilton ran wide and had to defend fiercely against Russell, forcing the 25-year-old off the track at the Spoon Curve.

“Who do we want to fight here, each other or the others?” Russell asked his team.

Hamilton’s defence was investigated but cleared by the stewards as he pitted first.

Meanwhile, Piastri had gained an advantage by pitting just as a virtual safety car was called, leapfrogging Norris after his pit stop.

Norris was soon on his team-mate’s gearbox, urging McLaren to act.

“The longer I stay behind the worse you are going to make the race for me,” Norris said, adding “What’s he doing?” before McLaren allowed him through.

Russell rolled the dice by attempting a one-stop strategy on an afternoon where tyre degradation was an issue for all the teams at a baking hot Suzuka.

But he was swallowed up by both McLarens, Charles Leclerc and team-mate Hamilton – with Russell urging his team to get Hamilton to give him DRS to defend from Sainz, as the Spaniard did a week ago to thwart Russell.

But Sainz moved past to take sixth as Ferrari gained the edge on Mercedes in the battle for second in the constructors’ standings.

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).

Max Verstappen faces a fight to take pole position at the Singapore Grand Prix after calling his Red Bull “unacceptable” in final practice.

As Carlos Sainz raced to the top of the time charts at the Marina Bay Circuit, Verstappen finished fourth.

The Dutchman is on an unprecedented 10-race winning streak with his Red Bull team unbeaten at the 14 rounds of the season so far.

But Verstappen bemoaned the handling of his car in the city-state, describing the upshifts in his Red Bull machinery as “unacceptable”.

He added: “These upshifts, what the f***. I am just struggling for rear grip. If I competed in drifting, I might win the race.”

Verstappen returned to the track in the closing moments of the one-hour running, ringing the neck of his Red Bull to move from sixth to fourth, 0.313 sec slower than Sainz.

But his struggles will give the chasing pack hope of finally stopping Verstappen and Red Bull with Ferrari holding the upper hand heading into qualifying later on Saturday.

Sainz and team-mate Charles Leclerc traded top spot in the two practice sessions here on Friday, with the former again fastest in the concluding running before the fight for pole.

Leclerc looked set to eclipse Sainz only to make a mistake in the second sector before backing out of his speediest lap, finishing fifth.

George Russell took an encouraging second for Mercedes, just 0.069 sec slower than Sainz, with Lando Norris third in his McLaren. Lewis Hamilton was sixth for Mercedes, within half-a-second of Sainz.

Verstappen’s team-mate Sergio Perez, who won here last year, finished eighth, 0.719 sec back.

Qualifying for the 15th round of 22 takes place at 2100 local time (1400 BST).

Max Verstappen has told Toto Wolff to focus on his own team after he called the Dutchman’s record winning streak “completely irrelevant” and “for Wikipedia”.

Red Bull’s Verstappen became the first driver in Formula One’s 73-year history to win 10 consecutive races following his triumph at the Italian Grand Prix earlier this month.

But moments after Verstappen’s landmark win, Mercedes team principal Wolff said: “For me, these kinds of records are completely irrelevant. Those numbers are for Wikipedia and nobody reads that anyway.”

George Russell and Lewis Hamilton crossed the line a distant fifth and sixth respectively for Mercedes at Monza’s Cathedral of Speed.

And when asked ahead of this weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix for his reaction to Wolff’s unflattering appraisal, Verstappen said: “I mean, they (Mercedes) had a pretty s*** race, so he was probably still p***** off with their performance.”

Poking fun at what Verstappen perceives to be an obsession with Red Bull, he continued: “He almost sounds like he’s an employee of our team, but luckily he is not. It’s just important that you focus on your own team. That’s what we do and that’s what we did in the past when we were behind them and when they were dominating. It worked as a kind of inspiration.

“You should be able to appreciate when a team is doing really well. To see someone that dominant – it was very impressive at the time – and we knew that we just had to work harder, try to be better, and try to get to that level. And now that we are there, we are very happy, and we are enjoying the moment.”

Verstappen, now a victor at 12 of the 14 rounds so far, has not lost a race since the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on April 30, while his Red Bull team remain unbeaten this year.

But the Dutch driver has never won in Singapore and last season he finished only seventh. And Verstappen fears the high-downforce, low-speed nature of the Marina Bay Circuit could play into the hands of his rivals.

“We are not as competitive here as other tracks,” said Verstappen. “The streets are a little bit tougher for our car. We can do a good job, but it will be very tight.

“So, I want to try and continue that streak, but I know there will be a day that that stops. Normally, Singapore is a bit more of a risk and more chaos, but we are here to win.

“I never really looked at winning eight or nine, 10 races in a row. I just want to do the best I can. And every weekend is basically the same in terms of the pressure I put on myself to try and get the best result so nothing really changes.”

Max Verstappen can cement his place in the Formula One record books by surpassing Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton, so says Jody Scheckter.

Red Bull driver Verstappen broke another record with his victory at the Italian Grand Prix, tallying up a tenth straight race victory, overtaking Sebastian Vettel's previous best of nine.

Verstappen extended his lead in the drivers' championship standings to 145 points and looks on course to win his third title in a row - having triumphed in 2021 and 2022 - and Scheckter sees no reason why the Dutchman's run will end here.

"It really depends on the cars, to a large extent. There's no question he's good enough but has he always got the winning car," he told Stats Perform. 

"To think Lewis [Hamilton] had a dominant car for a long period of time, not to take anything away from him. I also think he's brilliant and smart. You can get in a bad car now and then, doesn't matter how good you are, you're not going to be winning.

"Right now, he's got the car to win. Granted, you can't put anything against it. If he has this dominance all the time, it could be maybe eight drivers' championships."

Verstappen became the youngest driver in F1 when he made his debut aged 17 at the 2015 Austrian Grand Prix, but Scheckter believes that the 25-year-old has had to refine his technique and tactics on the track to fulfil his championship-winning potential.

"He's obviously quick as anything, but he's aggressive. But he's also smart and comes out on the top in these different very difficult situations. At the beginning, he was too aggressive. But now he seems to get it all together and real championship material," Scheckter added.

"I think at the beginning, when you get into Formula One, you just want to prove that you're faster than everybody and so that's what you do. And then you realise you don't win championships like that.

"You tune yourself and he's a smart guy. So he's got it together now and obviously got the car at the moment to do it."

With Verstappen closing in on his third successive title, it has reignited debate surrounding the competitiveness of F1.

Prior to Verstappen's win in 2021, Hamilton had won six titles in the space of seven years, with Vettel also winning four in a row between 2010 and 2013.

According to Scheckter, who won the drivers' championship in 1979 during a nine-year career in which no F1 rival successfully defended their title, changes should be made to try and level the playing field during this era of Red Bull dominance.

He said: "One thing that frustrates me about are these penalties that they mean they have to go back on the grid, and if the gearbox goes, it just doesn't make any sense to me at all.

"It spoils the spectacle of the racing, you want to see people racing on the track. If he breaks down in practice or qualifying he can't get back up to race. Why?

"Everybody wants to see them racing side by side. Just doesn't make any sense from a spectator's point of view that I can see."

Max Verstappen drove his way into the Formula One history books by taking his 10th-consecutive victory at Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix.

Verstappen sat behind Carlos Sainz for 14 of the 51 laps at Monza’s Temple of Speed before fighting his way past the Ferrari pole-sitter at the second chicane.

From there, the commanding Dutchman never looked back to better the mark he shared with Sebastian Vettel and become the first driver in Formula One to reach double figures for straight victories.

Sergio Perez finished second in the other Red Bull, while Sainz held off team-mate Charles Leclerc in a tantalising late battle between the Ferrari drivers to take the final spot on the podium.

George Russell finished fifth with Lewis Hamilton, who served a five-second penalty for colliding with McLaren’s Oscar Piastri, sixth.

“That is history,” said Red Bull team principal Christian Horner to his superstar driver. “Unbelievable.”

Verstappen’s 12th win from the 14 rounds so far moves him 145 points clear in the championship.

Unbeaten since the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on April 30, there remains an outside chance the 25-year-old could be crowned champion of the world for a third time as early as the Japanese Grand Prix in three weeks with half-a-dozen rounds still remaining.

Sainz lit up Ferrari’s home track by taking pole position and kept the dream alive of a victory in front of the Italian team’s 80,000-strong crowd by holding off Verstappen on the 500-metre drag to the opening Variante del Rettifilo.

Verstappen was the filling in a Ferrari sandwich with Leclerc maintaining third spot ahead of Mercedes’ Russell and Perez. Hamilton started eighth but dropped one position on the first lap.

Such has been the superiority of Verstappen’s Red Bull machine this year, Sainz was expected to be easy prey for the all-conquering Dutchman.

But to Verstappen’s surprise, Sainz was not prepared to make life easy for the double world champion.

On lap six, Verstappen was handed his first opportunity, drawing alongside Sainz on the 220mph run to the first chicane, only for the Spaniard to slam the door in his face.

“That was naughty,” said Verstappen. Three laps later, Verstappen was back on the intercom. “They have a lot of top speed, for f*** sake,” he said.

Further back and Russell’s mirrors were occupied by the other Red Bull of Perez. Asked to manage his rubber, the Englishman replied: “I don’t know if you can see, but I have got a car right up my a***.”

Up front and Verstappen sensed another chance to take the lead on lap 15.

A defensive Sainz locked up at the Variante del Rettifilo, handing Verstappen the exit speed on the 200mph charge to the Variante della Roggia.

The Red Bull and Ferrari machines were separated by mere centimetres as they went toe-to-toe into the second chicane before Verstappen, benefiting from the inside line, emerged in the lead.

Remarkably, Sainz’s 14 laps in the lead was the highest in any event this season by a non-Red Bull driver. The team from Milton Keynes could yet become the first team to go an entire campaign unbeaten with eight races to run.

On lap 16, Perez moved up to fourth with Russell – struggling for top-line speed in his Mercedes – unable to keep the Red Bull behind.

With Verstappen cruising imperiously to victory, Perez moved up third after seeing off Leclerc.

The Mexican set about passing Sainz, and, after a number of failed attempts, he finally blasted past the Ferrari with five laps remaining to ensure a one-two for Red Bull.

After emerging from his tyre stop in 10th, Hamilton moved ahead of Fernando Alonso before banging wheels with Piastri in the battle for eighth.

Hamilton was hit with a penalty for the incident at the Variante della Roggia as Piastri pitted for a new front wing.

“He just turned across me under braking,” bemoaned the Australian rookie.

Undeterred by his sanction, Hamilton then raced ahead of Lando Norris before moving past Alex Albon’s Williams to take sixth, finishing 7.4 seconds clear to ensure his penalty had no impact on his result.

Albon finished seventh ahead of Norris, with Alonso ninth.

Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz beat Max Verstappen to top spot in final practice for the Italian Grand Prix.

Sainz’s lap in the closing moments of the one-hour running in Monza drew a huge roar from the tifosi, providing the Ferrari faithful with hope a scarlet car might secure pole position at the team’s home event.

Sainz, who was also quickest in Friday’s second running, saw off Verstappen by 0.086 seconds. Lewis Hamilton finished third for Mercedes.

Charles Leclerc made a mistake on his speediest lap and had to settle for fourth, half-a-second slower than team-mate Sainz.

Verstappen is bidding to become the first driver to win 10 consecutive races, but Ferrari appear to have a car capable of denying the Dutchman pole.

For Hamilton, the seven-time world champion will be pleased to be back at the sharp end of the pack after he finished 17th in practice on Friday.

However, the British driver was still 0.541 seconds back from Sainz, with team-mate George Russell sixth. Fernando Alonso finished fifth for Aston Martin, with Sergio Perez 10th and McLaren’s Lando Norris 17th.

Qualifying for the 14th round of the season takes place at 4pm (3pm BST).

Max Verstappen has hit back at criticism of his dominance and set the target of remaining unbeaten for the final nine races of the season.

The all-conquering Dutchman will become the first driver in history to win 10 consecutive races if he takes the chequered flag at the Italian Grand Prix on Sunday.

Verstappen has been in imperious form this year, winning 11 of the 13 rounds staged as he closes in on a hat-trick of World Championships.

With a lead of 183 points heading into this weekend’s race in Monza there is a chance he could even close out the title with six rounds still remaining at the Japanese Grand Prix on September 24.

However, Verstappen’s emphatic streak has led to suggestions that the sport has become boring.

But responding to the accusations in an interview with the PA news agency, Verstappen, 25, said: “They cannot appreciate dominance or just people executing their jobs.

“It is nothing really new in Formula One, and I cannot do much with those kind of comments. Does it bother me? No. It would probably be worse if they were talking about other stuff. I am enjoying what I am doing and I hope I can do it for a while.

“I don’t want it to stop. We have another good opportunity this weekend. I believe I can win every single race.”

Verstappen’s victory on his home track in Zandvoort – which drew him level with Sebastian Vettel’s record of nine straight wins – was among the very best of the 46 of his career so far.

At one stage, he was lapping four seconds faster than Sergio Perez in the other Red Bull, and two seconds quicker than anybody else.

His virtuoso display in the inclement conditions prompted double world champion Fernando Alonso to say Verstappen’s achievements are being underestimated.

“It is not about getting the recognition because I know how hard it is to do,” said Verstappen.

“If it was very easy, more drivers would have won nine in a row, and more teams would have done it, and that is not the case.

“It hasn’t been straightforward either. In Zandvoort especially, a lot of things could have gone wrong, and in the end we still handled that really well.

“I never thought I would get to nine. I remember watching Seb do it, and I was like, ‘Jesus Christ, that is extremely difficult’, and now I am here and it is amazing.”

Verstappen will share the grid with long-time rival Lewis Hamilton for at least another two seasons after the British driver signed a new £50million-a-year deal to remain with Mercedes.

The contract extension will take Hamilton beyond his 40th birthday, and provides the possibility of a championship rematch with Verstappen if Mercedes can somehow close the gap to Red Bull.

Hamilton, who was denied an eighth world title after race director Michael Masi failed to follow the correct rules in Abu Dhabi in 2021, alluded to “unfinished business” after signing his latest deal.

Twenty months on from F1’s most contentious race, does Verstappen – who, on new tyres, had to pass Hamilton on the final lap to take the title – feel his maiden championship triumph was tainted?

“It was not like it was given to me,” he said. “I still had to do it.

“People always have short memories and they can forget a lot of stuff very quickly.

“It was a great year, and we had a lot of great battles with two teams going at it and that was amazing for Formula One.

“But you will always have a winner, and you will always have a loser. That is how this sport works, and I was also ready to lose.
“It was a 50-50 chance and it fell my way. But in the future I could be in a situation where it doesn’t fall my way and that is how life goes.

“I don’t really care a lot about other people’s opinions. I only care about people that are very close to me so whatever people say or write, I am like ‘whatever’.

“I grew up my whole life wanting to be a Formula One driver and I will do everything it takes to try and be successful at it.

“I make my choices and my decisions and that is why I am very relaxed about these things. I go home, I switch off from Formula One, and I am happy with my career. And when I come back to the race weekends I do my thing, and that is it.”

Fernando Alonso believes Max Verstappen’s record-equalling Formula One reign has been underestimated.

Verstappen matched Sebastian Vettel’s all-time streak of nine consecutive wins with a brilliant display in Sunday’s wet-dry-wet Dutch Grand Prix.

The Red Bull driver is 138 points clear at the summit of the world championship and could close out his third title as early as next month.

Earlier this season, Lewis Hamilton described Verstappen’s Red Bull machine as the fastest car he has ever seen.

But during Verstappen’s run of nine in a row, team-mate Sergio Perez – the only other driver to win a race in 2023 – has finished off the podium five times.

And double world champion Alonso, runner-up to Verstappen in Zandvoort, said: “It is underestimated what Max is achieving. To win in such a dominant way in any professional sport is so complicated.

“Today I felt connected with the car and that I was able to give 100 per cent of my abilities but perhaps at other races in Belgium or Austria, for example, I wasn’t able to do that.

“But Max is achieving 100 per cent more often than the rest of us at the moment, and that is why he is dominating.”

Since he claimed his maiden title at the controversial season-ending Abu Dhabi race in 2021, Verstappen has won 26 of the 35 races staged. In his last 24 appearances, Verstappen has failed to win just four times. He has triumphed at 11 of the 13 rounds so far this year.

On Sunday night, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner lauded his star driver as “simply untouchable”.

Hamilton’s Mercedes team secured eight consecutive constructors’ championships before Red Bull returned to the top.

Hamilton won six titles in seven seasons, but he was never able to win more than five races in a row. Michael Schumacher managed seven straight victories for Ferrari during his stranglehold of the sport at the turn of the century.

And Verstappen, 25, said: “There have been more dominant cars in the past than we have at the moment, and they haven’t been able to win nine in a row.

“It is hard and, especially in the rain, it’s easy to make a wrong call or spin into the gravel. So, it’s never that straightforward.”

Verstappen will bid to secure his 10th consecutive win at this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix in Monza.

Christian Horner has hailed “untouchable” Max Verstappen as the best driver in the world after the Red Bull star overcame a chaotic rain-hit Dutch Grand Prix to equal Sebastian Vettel’s record of nine wins in a row.

Despite two separate downpours wreaking havoc at the beginning and conclusion of Sunday’s 72-lap race in Zandvoort, Verstappen delivered in front of 105,000 expectant fans to take the chequered flag ahead of Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso, with Pierre Gasly completing the podium.

Verstappen’s Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez, slapped with a five-second penalty for speeding in the pit-lane, finished fourth while Lewis Hamilton – who bemoaned his Mercedes team’s poor strategy in the inclement conditions – came home in sixth place.

Verstappen, who has won 11 of the 13 rounds so far, will head to next weekend’s Italian Grand Prix in Monza 138 points clear in the drivers’ championship.

There remains an outside chance he could complete his hat-trick of titles at the Japanese Grand Prix on September 24 with half-a-dozen rounds still to run.

“Max is in a period of his career where he is just simply untouchable,” said Red Bull team principal Horner, who oversaw Vettel’s streak of nine straight wins a decade ago.

“I don’t think there is any driver on the grid that would be able to achieve what he is doing in that car.

“To win nine races in a row is insane, and it is something that none of us would have envisaged, and I never thought we would repeat it after we managed it with Sebastian. What we are witnessing is a driver that is generational.

“Max has been in incredible form for the past three years, and the most impressive thing for me is all the pressure that he is under here.

“With the expectation of 100,000 Dutch fans, a lot would have cracked under that pressure, but he kept his composure and delivered, as he has done so many times.”

Come wind, rain or shine, 25-year-old Verstappen is the man for all occasions. On pole, he found himself down in 13th place after seven drivers – including team-mate Perez – took advantage of a sudden first-lap downpour to move on to wet tyres.

But by lap 13, Verstappen – who at one stage was lapping his home track four seconds faster than Perez and two seconds quicker than anybody else – was back in the lead.

His record-equalling feat was placed in doubt when the rain returned with vengeance with a dozen laps to go, and Zhou Guanyu crashed out, and the race was stopped.

A 43-minute delay and six-lap dash to the chequered flag followed, but Verstappen denied Alonso any hope of taking his first win in a decade with an assured drive. He finished 3.7 sec clear of the Spaniard.

As Verstappen ensured Red Bull’s unbeaten run remained, Hamilton’s afternoon was scuppered by Mercedes’ dithering following the first-lap downpour.

Hamilton was not called in for wet tyres until the end of lap three with team-mate George Russell following in on the next lap. When the dust settled, Hamilton and Russell, who started third, were 16th and 18th respectively.

From there it was a damage-limitation exercise for both men, with Hamilton driving well to take sixth place.

Russell might have finished seventh but for a late duel with countryman Lando Norris leaving him with race-ending harm to his Mercedes. Norris crossed the line in seventh place.

Max Verstappen topped a rain-interrupted final practice session for Sunday’s Dutch Grand Prix.

The concluding hour before qualifying was red-flagged on three occasions following a series of accidents in the tricky conditions at Zandvoort.

With the session a little more than 10 minutes old, Kevin Magnussen spun out in his Haas at Turn 3, before Zhou Guanyu beached his Alfa Romeo at the penultimate corner.

Liam Lawson – the New Zealander making his Formula One debut as a replacement for Daniel Ricciardo who suffered a broken wrist in practice – then performed a pirouette heading into the main straight.

Lawson, 21, grazed the tyre wall on the opposing side of the circuit which led to a third stoppage.

When the action resumed, Verstappen, who is bidding to equal Sebastian Vettel’s record of nine consecutive victories, set an impressive pace in front of his home crowd.

The Red Bull driver finished three tenths clear of George Russell, with the Mercedes driver the only man within one second of Verstappen.

Sergio Perez took third spot, one place ahead of Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso with Lewis Hamilton fifth for Mercedes.

Qualifying takes place at 3pm local time (2pm BST) with the unsettled weather conditions forecast to continue throughout the day.

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