dking – four – five, that is the very personal counting rhyme of Max Verstappen: In qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday (07:00 CEST in FAZ live ticker for Formula 1 and on Sky). The current champion drives at the Suzuka International Circuit as if the bitter failure of the last race had never happened: for the third time in a row he achieves pole position on one of the most demanding tracks on the calendar, and for the fourth time in a row in this young year racing, even for the fifth time in all seasons.

The Red Bull driver has company in the front row with his teammate Sergio Perez, who was only 66 thousandths behind the sensation in the last minute of his last lap. “I thought it was possible,” said the Mexican, who nevertheless seemed satisfied. It finally works for him at the end of the year for a contract extensionand that will only become a reality if he does not fall far below Verstappen's (admittedly high) standard.

Verstappen: “The route requires a lot of driving experience”

came third Lando Norris With the McLaren, the Briton attacks: “We were able to fight for the victory of the day, that is an important step forward for us.” Melbourne winner Carlos Sainz jr. fourth with the Ferrari, he was satisfied with his performance, but not with that of his red company car: “It would have been difficult to continue. “We don’t have the fastest car.”

Although the advantage over Pérez was so small, it is a new demonstration of power from the defending champion, who is not at all nervous about the hustle and bustle within the racing team and the company's top management. He seems to just walk away from all problems, becoming literally untouchable. Thanks to his optimized RB 20, he can race with himself and his incredible speed can be seen even from the outside: he flew at 200 km/h around the Spoon Curve, on which more than 5G of centrifugal forces act. Obviously, continued superiority cannot be achieved at the expense of self-criticism. “In the end, things got difficult again. You always want to make the perfect lap, but things don't always go well when you push yourself to the limit. The route requires a lot of driving experience,” said the Dutchman. This is a high-level complaint, because the driver and vehicle work together perfectly.

The other two competing champions seemed almost perplexed by the casual manner in which the number one raced ahead of them on the high-speed track. “Man, where did this half-second advantage come from?” he groaned. Lewis Hamilton, who only finished seventh with the Mercedes. Fernando Alonso, who was fifth with the Aston Martin, asked his engineer over the on-board radio, almost exasperated: “I don't know what else I should do to go faster. In fact, I thought he had done a good lap.” Red Bull team boss Christian Horner could also hear the congratulatory message from him on the cockpit tape: “Well done, first position, good job.”

The Silver Arrow remains a technical grab bag. Team boss Toto Wolff called Saturday's performance “disgusting” and said seventh and ninth places were “wasted.” At least the Austrian can see a slight tendency to improve after the technical changes in the vehicle's set-up. In front of the Sky microphone he analyzed: “This has halved the gap we had here last year and has brought us closer to the front and McLaren. One tenth better and we would have finished in second row. But I don't want to sugarcoat anything.”

His Ferrari colleague Fred Vasseur was already looking forward to the race after a mixed team performance. The Frenchman has a clear explanation for fourth and eighth place: “We made some small mistakes. Red Bull made no mistakes. That's his big advantage.” However, his Scuderia's work was not good enough. He only recommends being more aggressive in the 53 laps on a limited basis, because the border zone on asphalt eight is more dangerous than anywhere else. He preferred to rely on the tactics that were so successful in the last race: “We should look at ourselves.”

Japan's Yuki Tsunoda was applauded as a winner of the day by the home crowd, as he climbed into the top ten of the standings in tenth place with his Racing Bull Honda. Unlike Nico Hülkenberg from Emmerich, who although he was close to reaching the last round he came in twelfth place.