Qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix started off with a dark, cloudy sky but no rain. Temps were 73 degrees ambient and 79-degree track temperature. An earlier rain shower had cooled things off and the threat of rain was coming. There were small patches on the circuit that were slightly darker indicating they were still damp but all cars were on dry-weather tires.
At Suzuka, 44% of the wins come from pole position while 85% come from the second row. A nice statistic from the folks at NBC Sports.
The session started with Nico Rosberg going out on the harder medium compound tires as did his teammate, Lewis Hamilton. Nico had been dominating the weekend during Free Practice sessions with Lewis right on his heels.
Nico’s initial lap set the pace at 1:31.858 with Lewis just 0.360s behind him as their banker laps were set immediately. The time was eclipsed by Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen, followed by Sebastian Vettel, with seven minutes left in the session and that was accomplished by running the soft compounds to Mercedes’ mediums.
Both McLaren Honda’s came out with two minutes left in the session as Jenson Button was in the knock-out zone and Fernando Alonso needed to shore up his 13th place for the home crowd. Both cars, fitted with soft compounds, Alonso moved up to 11th and Button managed 13th. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough as Jenson was bumped out in Q1.
Both Haas F1 drivers made it through to Q2 with a great run from Romain Grosjean.
The session started with both Mercedes out immediately and on soft tires as this session determines the tires each driver will start on. Nico threw the gauntlet down with a 1:30.714 with his teammate, Hamilton, slightly off the pace as he ran wide at turn 8.
The Red Bulls, after a terrific weekend in Malaysia in which they had the measure of both Ferraris, seemed to be slightly off the pace to the Italian team in Q2 with both the both Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen behind both Ferraris.
Vettel’s Ferrari led Kimi Raikkonen but was still .513 off Rosberg’s pace. With four minutes left in the session but it was enough to advance him to Q3. Both Williams cars left it late in the session to set a time with just three minutes left in the session. Valtterii Bottas jumped up and out of the elimination zone to 8th while his teammate Felipe Massa managed 10th only to be knocked out by Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez.
Both Toro Rosso’s made it to Q2 but weren’t able to advance to Q3. Carlos Sainz had a spin on his final attempt and Daniil Kvyat didn’t find the pace to make it to Q3. The talking point was that both Haas F1 cars made Q3 with terrific performances in cars with little downforce and a lot of oversteer. That’s the first time in the teams brief history and a real achievement given their recent struggles and Grosjean’s plaguing brake issues.
The session started with Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo and Mx Verstappen but their times were eclipsed immediately by Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen who had his time eclipsed by Mercedes drivers Rosberg and Hamilton. Hamilton led the time sheet, with a 1:30.758, on his first run and that was the first time he had been fastest all weekend.
The final run for pole had a dark cloud hanging over it for Sebastian Vettel who will receive a 3-space grid penalty but he was the last on track hoping for the fastest conditions.
Nico Rosberg secured pole over Lewis by .013s and he was followed by Raikkonen in 3rd, Vettel in 4th (7th) and both Red Bulls behind them led by Verstappen.
Interestingly, the Haas F1 car of Grosjean split the Force India’s in 8th with Sergio Perez 7th and Nico Hulkenberg in 9th.