Rosberg holds on for pole in Mercedes front row lock out

Großer Preis von Japan 2016, Samstag. Credit: Mercedes AMG PETRONAS

Mercedes AMG PETRONAS driver Nico Rosberg topped the times to take pole position in qualifying, in what was an extremely close and tense final moments of Q3, to beat team-mate Lewis Hamilton to the top spot by just one hundredth of a second.

The German set a time of 1:30.647 on a set of the soft tyres , in what were grey and overcast conditions, to maintain the upper hand over the Brit going into tomorrow’s race. Hamilton had taken provisional pole early on in Q3, but in the dying minutes Rosberg put in a corker of a lap, that the Brit was unable to better with his final effort. Hamilton has never taken pole position at Suzuka, with both his top spot places coming at Fuji in 2007 and 2008, and that statistic will remain this weekend.

Kimi Raikkonen finished in third and the fastest of the Scuderia Ferrari drivers, despite complaining of problems with front end grip throughout the session, to out qualify team-mate Sebastian Vettel who was fourth. The Finn has regularly been ahead of the German this weekend, and the 2007 world champion was only three tenths down on the lead Mercedes time, a positive effort for the Maranello based squad, who finished ahead of both Red Bull Racing drivers on track. Vettel will of course receive a three place grid penalty for his part in the first corner incident in Malaysia last weekend, which will move him don the order tomorrow.

Max Verstappen was able to out qualify team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, to leave the Red Bull drivers on the third row and down in fifth and sixth place. The Dutchman was heard to complain about traffic on occasion during the qualifying session, and reported a loss of gear sync in Q3.

The Red Bull’s appear to be down on power in 130R which see’s them drop a couple of tenths across a lap, but hopefully it will not be a problem for them on Sunday. One positive for the Milton Keynes based squad is that they look strong over long run pace, so there is still everything to play for on race day.

Sahara Force India driver Sergio Perez was seventh, ahead of Haas F1 Team driver Romain Grosjean. For the first time this season the American team got both of its drivers through to Q3, in what was a fantastic session for the rookie squad. Grosjean put in a fantastic final lap to go eighth despite a big moment earlier on when he got his tyres on the grass at the final corner and the VF16 was snapped sideways, which the Frenchman expertly saved.

Nico Hulkenberg took ninth, and Force India are once again looking strong and can never be counted out on race day. The German was ahead of the second Haas of Esteban Gutierrez who rounded out the top ten today.

It was a poor session for the Williams Martini Racing team, with neither of their drivers making it through to Q3. Valtteri Bottas was the quickest of the pair in eleventh, with team-mate Felipe Massa slotting in behind him in twelfth, the Brazilian’s final lap somewhat hampered by a yellow flag. There should definitely be more to come from the Grove based squad on Sunday, who will now have free choice of tyres and could opt for a differing strategy to those around them.

Scuderia Toro Rosso driver Daniil Kvyat was thirteenth, and ahead of team-mate Carlos Sainz Jnr, who had a hampered practice session during FP3 this morning when he had a hybrid battery issue, that saw him have very little time out on track prior to this session. The Spaniard was pushing hard on his final Q2 lap, and unfortunately got himself into a spin at spoon curve, which then ruined his chances of getting through to Q3.

McLaren-Honda F1 team driver Fernando Alonso, was only able to put the MP4-31 into fifteenth place having just squeezed through to Q2 by the skin of his teeth, in what was a disappointing session for the Woking based team, who need to find some more speed from somewhere, if they are to have a good race tomorrow.

Renault Sport F1 team driver Jolyon Palmer was sixteenth fastest for the French manufacturer, and ahead of his team-mate who was unable to make it through to Q2 earlier in the session, the Brit trying his beat to show Renault that he is worth keeping in 2017.

Jenson Button had anther torrid session here in Suzuka this weekend and exited in Q1, finishing in a lowly seventeenth place, by just three hundredths of a second from team-mate Alonso who just managed to sneak through to Q2, some consolation for Honda at their home track.

Button had PU problems in FP3 this morning and was down on power throughout the session, that issue appeared to have been resolved in qualifying, but the Brit was unable to do enough to get through to Q2 with the lap times so close. One positive to take away however, is that Button was much closer to his team-mate in the timings, having been half a second off the Spaniard’s pace for most of the weekend.

The Brit’s former team-mate Kevin Magnussen was eighteenth fastest for the Renault Sport F1 Team, ahead of Sauber F1 Team driver Marcus Ericsson who ended the session in nineteenth place, just ahead of team-mate Felipe Nasr.

Manor Racing Team driver Esteban Ocon once again out qualified his team-mate to go twenty-first, leaving Pascal Wehrlein in last place, even before the German receives a five place grid penalty for an engine change ahead of qualifying.

Though Mercedes took the top two spots today, it is an extremely tight field all the way down to sixth place with just half a second between the top six cars, and Red Bull and Ferrari most definitely in the battle, for what should be an extremely close race.

2016 Japanese Grand Prix – Qualifying Results

16Nico RosbergGERMercedes1:31.858 1:30.7141:30.647
244Lewis HamiltonGBRMercedes1:32.2181:31.1291:30.660
37Kimi RäikkönenFINFerrari1:31.6741:31.4061:30.949
45Sebastian VettelGERFerrari1:31.6591:31.2271:31.028
533Max VerstappenNEDRed Bull Racing1:32.4871:31.4891:31.178
63Daniel RicciardoAUSRed Bull Racing1:32.5381:31.7191:31.240
711Sergio PerezMEXForce India1:32.682 1:32.237 1:31.961
88Romain GrosjeanFRAHaas1:32.4581:32.1761:31.961
927Nico HulkenbergGERForce India1:32.4481:32.2001:32.142
1021Esteban GutierrezMEXHaas1:32.6201:32.1551:32.547
1177Valtteri BottasFINWilliams1:32.383 1:32.315
1219Felipe MassaBRAWilliams1:32.5621:32.380
1326Daniil KvyatRUSToro Rosso1:32.6451:32.623
1455Carlos SainzESPToro Rosso1:32.7891:32.685
1514Fernando AlonsoESPMcLaren1:32.819 1:32.689
1630Jolyon PalmerGBRRenault1:32.7961:32.807
1722Jenson ButtonGBRMcLaren1:32.851
1820Kevin MagnussenDENRenault1:33.023
199Marcus EricssonSWESauber1:33.222
2012Felipe NasrBRASauber1:33.332
2131Esteban OconFRAManor1:33.353
2294Pascal WehrleinGERManor1:33.561

Note – Vettel penalised 3 grid places for causing a collision at previous round. Wehrlein penalised 5 grid places for unscheduled gearbox change.