Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg secured his second pole position of the season at Suzuka this morning, but only after the session was stopped prematurely following a huge crash by Daniil Kvyat.
Valtteri Bottas (Williams) heads up the second row, with Singapore victor Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) alongside, while the other Williams of Felipe Massa made it two Grove cars in the top five.
Both Rosberg and championship leading teammate Lewis Hamilton were on their final runs when Kvyat smashed his Renault-powered Red Bull into the barrier prior to the hairpin with less than one minute left on the clock.
Eight of the final ten in Q3 had set a time when the red flag emerged, with Rosberg’s first effort of 1:32.584s proving good enough to hold Hamilton in 2nd spot by less than a tenth-of-a-second. Rosberg ended Saturday feeling understandably pleased with his efforts. “I nailed my laps and I was already on another good quick lap when Dani hit the wall. Then the team informed me that he is fine so we were all very happy to hear that. I’m confident for tomorrow.”
The poleman added, “It was difficult to set up the car here for the dry conditions, because we had the two wet sessions yesterday, but when we were able to practise some high fuel and qualifying runs today, I got a really good feeling.” Rosberg did seem comfortable on track – certainly it appeared to be one of his more comfortable runs of the season compared to his teammate, although the 30-year-old’s second run may have been more telling in lap time.
On the other side of the garage, Hamilton’s 1:32.660s may be a lap that he will come to rue. While Rosberg’s quick run was far from perfect, Hamilton made two errors that dropped him behind his German rival; the most significant of which was a lengthy lock-up in the hairpin, causing him to run wide and lost up to two-tenths in laptime.
Come the end of the lap, Hamilton made another mistake in the final corner, costing the championship leader even more time. Despite all this, Hamilton felt his car was in good shape and there is more to look forward to in the Grand Prix itself. “The car feels perfect this weekend. My engineers did a fantastic job and I enjoyed the battle with Nico. He did a great job and it was exciting today. This is a track where you’re constantly fighting to gain more and more; the last lap started so well and I was up by turn seven but the red flag came out in the end.”
Hamilton continued, “Tomorrow is going to be hard; it depends on the conditions. The start will be crucial as you can’t follow closely here and it will be hard to pass but I will give it my best shot.”
The inside line of the front row may not seem like such a bad situation for Hamilton; however the Briton will be wary of having to start in the dirty side of the track, potentially opening the door for the Mercedes-powered Bottas to slip through.
Running some new parts, both of the Williams drivers appear more confident behind the wheel of the FW37; however Massa failed to get the best of his Martini-backed machine when he made was would turn out to be his only timed run. For Bottas, it was a positive day’s work. “It has been a good day. We made some changes after FP3 and those changes were exactly what we needed, so as a team we have really performed well. I feel comfortable with the car and around here that is very important.” Like everyone else, Bottas also knows that the wet Freiday sessions mean limited knowledge of long runs this weekend. “We have limited data on tyre wear due to the conditions yesterday, but starting third we need to target the podium tomorrow.”
Where Ferrari were supreme under the lights last week, Suzuka provided an altogether different challenge for the Scuderia, with Vettel better able to bring heat into the medium-shod Pirelli tyres; however it is clear that the inherent pace that was present in Singapore may be far more difficult to find in Japan. Raikkonen never quite got on top of his tyres through Saturday and settled for 6th overall.
Another podium is looking rather unlikely for Daniel Ricciardo, who secured 7th in his Red Bull. The Australian will lead Lotus’ Romain Grosjean from the fourth row, while Force India’s Sergio Perez claimed 9th, despite not setting a time in Q3. For Grosjean, just making an appearance in Q3 was a positive turn. “I didn’t expect to go into Q3, we thought we were half a second off so this was a great job from everyone!”
All ten Q3 runners were on track when Kvyat left the track after the Degner 2 turn. Having negotiated the corner proper, Kvyat made hat he admitted to be “a rookie mistake” when he placed his left-side wheels on the green painted patch, as the corner began to flick right. Immediately the Russian was pitched hard to the left and into the unforgiving tyre barriers and was then pitched into a roll as his wheels dug into the sandtrap.
Such was the ferocity of the hit; Kvyat’s Red Bull was shorn of both left-side wheels, as well as a portion of the rear of his car. The Red Bull is due to re-enter scrutineering prior to the race, but will start from the pitlane in a completely rebuilt car. The session was red flagged immediately and not restarted following the incident, which left a significant amount of debris – including two wheels – strewn across the track.
With Kvyat unable to take 10th, Carlos Sainz is promoted to the fifth row. The Spaniard initially qualified in 12th place – a disappointing result considering the Italian team’s practice pace – however the team are confident of securing further points in the race.
Pastor Maldonado (Lotus) and Fernando Alonso (McLaren) will take the sixth row, but where Maldonado complained of being unable to get heat into the medium Pirelli’s, Alonso admitting that it was “probably the best lap of my career around Suzuka. I could have fitted 100 more sets of tyres to the car, and I probably still wouldn’t have bettered that Q2 lap-time…”
Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg will start 13th after taking penalty going into qualifying. The grid drop – a result of a collision with Massa last weekend – demoted the German from 11th, where his missed out on Q3 by a tenth to Grosjean. “I think my qualifying lap was pretty good,” said a deflated Hulkenberg, adding, “I felt I was pushing the car to its limit: unfortunately that wasn’t enough, but I know it was our best effort.”
Jenson Button lines up 14th on the grid, although the veteran was publicly displeased with his team for not informing him of what engine settings he was running in Q1.“Every time before we start a timed lap, we’re instructed over the radio to adopt a particular setting, but I didn’t get told, and I went to the wrong setting,” said Button. The Briton would lose any opportunity to set another lap when Max Verstappen stalled his Toro Rosso machine in the latter moments of Q1, eliciting double-waved yellow flags at the exit of the hairpin.
McLaren Racing Director, Eric Boullier, added, “I must apologise to Jenson on behalf of the team. We have a set of procedures ahead of a qualifying lap, and we didn’t follow all of those today. He must feel frustrated to have lost out on his first run, and then not to have got a decent shot at it on his second.”
Sauber also lost out in Q1, when both Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr’s runs were hampered by waved yellows, although both drivers made mistake of their own on their first runs, including a lairy spin for Ericsson in Spoon Curve.
Verstappen’s odd parking position following his Q1 car failure was deemed dangerous by the stewards and the Dutch youngster was handed a three-place grid penalty, dropping him to 17th. Both Manor’s are set to race one year on from Jules Bianchi’s accident at this circuit, with Will Stevens heading Alexander Rossi in 18th and 19th respectively.