Nico Rosberg has secured pole position for tomorrow’s Japanese Grand Prix after edging out Mercedes teammate and championship rival Lewis Hamilton in qualifying at Suzuka today.
[VIDEO: Full replay of Qualifying]
The German driver lapped the historic F1 circuit with a fastest time of 1:32.506 to finish two-tenths of a second clear of Hamilton, giving him his eighth pole position of the season at the expense of his teammate.
Just hours after the paddock had been rocked by the news of Sebastian Vettel’s decision to leave Red Bull at the end of the current season, qualifying got underway at Suzuka in dry and sunny conditions. Despite crashing at the end of FP3, Hamilton soon set about establishing his dominance at the top of the timesheets, finishing ahead of Rosberg by just 0.060 seconds in the final classification.
In the Q1 dropzone, the usual suspects at Caterham and Marussia filled out the bottom four positions with Marcus Ericsson finishing as the lead backmarker. When the checkered flag fell at the end of the session, Sauber looked set to lose both of its drivers in Q1, only for Esteban Gutierrez and Adrian Sutil to pull out some fine final laps to make it through at the expense of Lotus drivers Pastor Maldonado and Romain Grosjean.
Keen to redress the balance, Rosberg hit back at the beginning of Q2 to go fastest ahead of Hamilton by an even slenderer margin, gapping the Briton by 0.032s with his first run. Williams, Ferrari and McLaren all looked comfortable inside the top ten, but Red Bull – the attention for the F1 world on Saturday – was staring down the barrel of an early elimination as neither Vettel nor Daniel Ricciardo featured inside the top ten after the first set of runs in Q2.
However, they soon found some pace, with both drivers squeezing into the top ten thanks to improvements on their second run. Vettel slipped through in tenth place, having made a mistake on the exit of Spoon, while Ricciardo finished seventh.
Instead, it was Toro Rosso, Force India and Sauber that were the casualties of Q2 with all three teams losing both of their drivers. Jean-Eric Vergne will start the race from 11th ahead of Force India’s Sergio Perez and Toro Rosso teammate Daniil Kvyat. Nico Hulkenberg finished 14th after locking up at the final complex of corners, but he will still start ahead of the Sauber drivers in 15th and 16th.
Looking to get ahead of the game in Q3, Williams’ Valtteri Bottas went out on track early to post a lap time on a clear track, and duly moved into first place with his initial effort. He was soon bumped off top spot by Rosberg, who put in an impressive lap time on his first run, and it proved to be too quick for Hamilton as the Briton fell three-tenths short after the first laps in Q3.
With his final flying lap, Rosberg managed to pull out another tenth of a second to leave Hamilton facing a big task to secure pole position, and ultimately the Briton couldn’t do it. He did manage to improve with his final lap time, but was still two-tenths adrift of Rosberg at the flag.
Williams enjoyed a very successful qualifying session as its drivers finished third and fourth, with Valtteri Bottas coming home ahead of Felipe Massa. Fernando Alonso put the rumors about his future to one side to qualify fifth ahead of Daniel Ricciardo.
Both Kevin Magnussen and Jenson Button did their chances of a new McLaren deal some good by lining up seventh and eighth on the grid. Sebastian Vettel had a ragged final lap to finish ninth ahead of his likely 2015 teammate, Kimi Raikkonen, who was tenth.
Once again, Mercedes was the dominant force in qualifying, and with Typhoon Phanfone set to hit Suzuka tomorrow, it could well be that pole position is all the more crucial for Rosberg. Regardless of the weather, he has managed to regain some of the momentum he lost in Singapore, and winning on Sunday would do his championship hopes a world of good.