Rosberg Pips Hamilton To Japanese Pole

Nico Rosberg cemented Mercedes’ return to dominance when he grabbed pole at the Japanese Grand Prix on Saturday. The German had to fight off the challenge of his team-mate who edged closer every session, but an error on his timed lap in Q3 cost Hamilton and he settled for the second slot on the grid. Valtteri Bottas proved best-of-the-rest while Daniil Kvyat emerged unscathed from a mammoth crash.

In an effort to make up for the lack of dry running, most of the drivers took to the track as the green light flashed at the beginning of Q1. Max Verstappen was the first driver to clock a lap, although his fast first and second sectors were somewhat tarnished when he slipped wide at the final chicane. The Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Rosberg jumped then to the top of the timesheets while the Williams cars and Daniel Ricciardo were some of the men separating the Silver Arrows from Verstappen’s Toro Rosso. Marcus Ericsson came close to clouting the barriers when he touched the astroturf on the lead into Spoon curve, with his C34 snapping and spinning into the gravel, leaving a startled Ericsson asking what had happened.

His spin affected Marussia driver Alexander Rossi who couldn’t set a competitive lap with the yellow flags flying and so ducked into the pits. When he returned to the track at the end of the session to finally set a lap, Max Verstappen’s Toro Rosso ground to a halt just after the hairpin with what looked like a mechanical gremlin, which again impeded Rossi and left him without a lap time. It also affected Button who didn’t have the chance to improve on his time and got stuck in 16th – meaning he’d drop out of Quali at Q1. He blamed the team for not telling him which way to set his engine and subsequently setting the wrong engine map himself. It’s the first time in his career the Briton hasn’t qualified in the top ten at Suzuka. This benefitted team-mate Alonso, though, who narrowly scraped through to Q2.

Q2 got underway and, although fast enough to progress into Q2, Verstappen was obviously out of contention and watched from the pitlane. Almost immediately, Rosberg dived to the top of the timesheets and was soon followed by Hamilton who went second fastest. The Williams men flanked the Silver Arrows but Kimi Raikkonen edged himself two-hundreths ahead of Massa, while Vettel occupied the other side of the Williams. The top six felt confident enough to sit out the rest of the session, leaving the remaining eight to battle it out for the last four places in Q3. Perez split the Red Bulls with the three men in the top ten, while a late lap from Alonso was not strong enough to make the top ten. Hulkenberg opted not to put in one last lap and was demoted to eleventh – and out of qualifying – when Grosjean took the last Q3 spot. The Force India driver has a three-place grid penalty from his crash with Massa last weekend and so will drop to fourteenth as a result. Carlos Sainz clocked twelfth ahead of Maldonado, with Alonso in fourteenth but only 0.5s off the cut-off mark.

Although ten drivers were left to battle for pole position, realistically only two were in the fight. Rosberg was the first to set a timed lap in the session and clocked a 1.32.584 while Hamilton set a lap 0.076s behind the other Mercedes, although this was on a lap where he locked his brakes at the hairpin, suggesting he could overthrow Rosberg for pole. Behind them, Bottas provisionally clasped third ahead of Vettel, Massa, Raikkonen, Ricciardo and Grosjean.

But as the drivers returned to the track for the final laps, Kvyat touched the grass on the entrance to the chicane and lost control of the car, spinning into the barrier which sent him sideways across the gravel and rolling the car. The Russian’s RB11 was utterly destroyed in the impact which will neccesitate a full rebuild, and as a result he will start the race from the pitlane. The red flag spurred by the crash came with only 36 seconds on the clock meaning there would not be enough time to set another lap and so qualifying was ended. Rosberg took pole as a result, with Hamilton rueing his lock-up which potentially cost him pole and Bottas taking third for Williams. Vettel took fourth for Ferrari, with former Ferrari man Massa ahead of the other Scuderia car, piloted by Raikkonen. Ricciardo took seventh ahead of eighth-placed Grosjean, while neither Sergio Perez nor Daniil Kvyat could set a time before the red flag, leaving them ninth and tenth.

Provisional Starting Grid:

  1. Nico Rosberg
  2. Lewis Hamilton
  3. Valtteri Bottas
  4. Sebastian Vettel
  5. Felipe Massa
  6. Kimi Raikkonen
  7. Daniel Ricciardo
  8. Romain Grosjean
  9. Sergio Perez
  10. Daniil Kvyat
  11. Carlos Sainz
  12. Pastor Maldonado
  13. Fernando Alonso
  14. Nico Hulkenberg
  15. Max Verstappen
  16. Jenson Button
  17. Marcus Ericsson
  18. Felipe Nasr
  19. Will Stevens
  20. Alexander Rossi (No Time)

Image courtesy of Mercedes AMG F1 Team. 

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1 Comment

Filed under F1, Qualifying Report

One response to “Rosberg Pips Hamilton To Japanese Pole

  1. Pingback: Verstappen handed three-place grid penalty | Ben Sweeney's F1 Blog

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