Formula One world champion Max Verstappen took pole position for a third straight year at the Japanese Grand Prix on Saturday, with Sergio Perez qualifying second to ensure a Red Bull front-row lockout.

McLaren’s Lando Norris will start Sunday’s race in third place.

Verstappen, who will be looking for a third straight victory in Japan in Sunday’s race, becomes the first driver to take pole in the opening four races of a season since Lewis Hamilton nine years ago.

“It was very close in the end, nevertheless most importantly to be on pole – of course you want every lap to be perfect but at a track like this it isn’t always the case,” the Dutchman said after setting the pace with a lap of one minute 28.197 seconds.

Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz qualified in fourth with his teammate Charles Leclerc frustrated by a difficult drive which will see him start back in eighth on Sunday.

“That’s the best I can do. Honestly, I don’t get it” Leclerc said over the team radio.

Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso and McLaren’s Oscar Piastri, celebrating his 23rd birthday on Saturday, finished in fifth and sixth respectively.

Seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton and George Russell, both of Mercedes, finished in seventh and ninth, with local hero Yuki Tsunoda getting one of the biggest cheers of the day sneaking into the final round of qualifying and starting tenth tomorrow.