Max Verstappen is in prime position to secure a second world title at Sunday's Japanese Grand Prix after clinching pole during qualifying in Suzuka.
The Red Bull driver will seal the Drivers' Championship crown if he claims race victory at Suzuka Circuit alongside setting the fastest lap.
There was an element of controversy regarding Verstappen clinching pole, as he was reprimanded following an incident involving McLaren's Lando Norris during the final session, but the Dutchman escaped punishment following a post-qualifying investigation.
|What:||Japanese Grand Prix|
Suzuka Circuit, Suzuka
06:00, Sunday 9th October 2002
|How to watch:|
Max Verstappen 4/9, Charles Leclerc 3/1, Carlos Sainz 12/1, Lewis Hamilton 14/1, Sergio Perez 16/1
It proved to be an impressive performance from reigning champion Verstappen on Saturday, as after seeing Mercedes dominate during Practice Two the previous day, the 25-year-old sent out an ominous warning to his rivals by topping the timesheets in P3.
That set Verstappen up nicely during qualifying, as he posted a fastest time of 1'29.304, although it was far from a flawless showing from the Red Bull star, who pipped Ferrari's Charles Leclerc to pole by just 0.01 seconds.
Leclerc posted his fastest time during his final lap, while Verstappen made an uncharacteristic error during his last run, as he damaged some bodywork on his RB18 car when going too wide into Turn Two.
Despite that mistake, Verstappen remains the driver to beat heading into Sunday's race, as he is 4/9 to win the Grand Prix and 5/6 to clinch the fastest lap - achieve both of those feats and he will be crowned world champion for the second year in a row.
Verstappen will also seal the world title if he wins the race without setting the fastest lap, but only if nearest rival Leclerc finishes lower than second.
Leclerc sits 104 points behind Verstappen in the Drivers' Championship standings, but the Monegasque is 3/1 to win Sunday's race and ensure that the Red Bull champagne is put on ice until at least the United States Grand Prix in two weeks' time.
Verstappen's error during his final qualifying lap was not the only incident the former Toro Rosso driver was involved in. He almost lost control of his car on the exit of the flat-out 130R while on a slow lap during the final session, with the McLaren of Norris approaching from behind at speed.
That mistake from Verstappen forced Norris to take to the grass to avoid a collision and led to an investigation from the race stewards, although they ultimately cleared the title favourite of any wrongdoing.
Verstappen was pragmatic regarding the incident afterwards, but Norris was less forgiving, suggesting it was "quite clear" the Red Bull driver had been deliberately trying to defend his position on the track.
Any punishment would have been a blow to Verstappen's chances of clinching the title in Japan, while victory on Sunday would be his 12th success of the season, leaving him just one short of the record for a campaign currently held by Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel.
There is a familiar look to the front of the grid heading into Sunday's race, with Verstappen and Leclerc locking out the front row, while the second Ferrari of Carlos Sainz and Red Bull's Sergio Perez qualified third and fourth fastest, respectively.
It was a good day for Alpine, who were reaping the rewards from their upgrade at last week's Singapore Grand Prix, as Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso qualified fifth and seventh quickest, respectively, with Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton sandwiched between the pair.
Mercedes could not replicate the pace they had shown during P2 on Friday, as Russell, who is 25/1 to win Sunday's race, qualified two places below 14/1 Hamilton in eighth.
Aston Martin driver Vettel and Norris' McLaren completed the top 10 on what is proving a particularly emotional weekend for the former, as he is making his final appearance at Suzuka ahead of his retirement at the end of the season.
Suzuka Circuit is Vettel's favourite on the F1 calendar and he is a four-time winner at the venue, although a fifth success on Sunday seems unlikely at 500/1.