Max Verstappen wasted no time in placing the blame at the feet of Lando Norris after the pair’s frightening near-miss during the closing stages of qualifying at the Japanese Grand Prix on Saturday morning. The Dutchman conducted a burnout to warm up his rear tyres just after the high-speed 130-R corner, which forced Norris to swerve onto the grass in order to avoid a heavy collision at the last moment.
Verstappen was placed under investigation by the race stewards in the immediate aftermath of the session and faces the possibility of losing pole position for Sunday’s race if he is penalised for his role in the incident. He insisted that he was not to blame in his post-qualifying press conference, though, by arguing that Norris should not have been trying to overtake him as they approached the final chicane on their respective warm-up laps.
“We were on our out lap and we were all lining up to try and create a gap to everyone,” said Verstappen. “Somehow he still wanted to get me into the chicane, I was at the point of accelerating on very cold tyres so I had a little moment and that’s when he had to go around me.
“If you’re just a little bit respectful… everyone’s already lining up, I don’t think anybody’s trying to pass into that last chicane, so by trying to pass me you create that problem.”
Verstappen enjoyed a near-perfect qualifying session at Suzuka, with the 25-year-old pipping Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc to claim pole position thanks to a dominant performance against the clock in Q3. His comments on the near-miss involving Norris were echoed by Red Bull team principal Christian Horner, who defended his driver by questioning why his McLaren rival was attempting to jump the queue towards the end of the circuit.
“They’re both on out laps and there’s a gentleman’s agreement between the drivers that when you get to that part of the circuit you hold position and they file through the last chicane one-by-one,” Horner told Sky Sports F1.
“So, Lando has decided that he wants to jump the queue as they head up to that final chicane. They’ve been following each other all the way around the circuit until that point.
“I don’t think he [Verstappen] was trying to block. I just don’t think he was expecting, on an out lap, somebody at that point near the chicane to be coming.”