It was smiles and some sadness for four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel on Saturday after his last qualifying lap around a Suzuka circuit that has played a big part in his Formula One career.
The 35-year-old German is retiring at the end of the season and every race is a farewell of sorts, but Suzuka will always be special.
The current Aston Martin driver has won four times at the Honda-owned track, all with Red Bull, and clinched his second world championship with four races to spare at Suzuka in 2011.
It was also the scene of his most recent pole position, with Ferrari in 2019.
“I love this place, I love this track. It’s just you feel more alive,” Vettel told Sky Sports television after qualifying ninth, 10 places ahead of Canadian team mate Lance Stroll.
“When you’re battling with the car and then yourself up that first sector, it’s just a big smile every time.
“Laps like this make me...not regret, because I look forward to what’s coming, but a bit sad about the fact that it’s the last time.”
Vettel announced his retirement in July, saying his goals had changed and he wanted to focus more on family and interests outside the sport.
He ranks third on the all-time race winners list, behind seven-time champions Lewis Hamilton (103) and Michael Schumacher (91), with 53 victories. His last win was with Ferrari in Singapore in 2019.
Vettel has scored 24 points this season and is 12th overall with five races left.
“We are far away from P1 (first) but still the feeling in the car is something special when the fuel is light and the tyres are fresh,” he said of qualifying.
“I will never go as fast tomorrow as I went today because (in the race) you don’t have new tyres and hardly any fuel in the car. It will be different.”