Mercedes drivers qualify 1-2 at Suzuka

Lewis Hamilton
Lewis Hamilton

Using the superior Aldo Costa designed Mercedes, Lewis Hamilton earned his 71st pole position – and his first at Suzuka – in qualifying for the Japanese GP. Teammate Valtteri Bottas was second, but a gearbox penalty for the Finn means it’s Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel who will start alongside Hamilton on the front row.

Fourth and fifth fastest were the Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, followed by Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen, who like Bottas has a five-place gearbox penalty. The Force Indias of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon were seventh and eighth, with Williams’ Felipe Massa and McLaren’s Fernando Alonso completing the top ten.

Early in the hour, Q1 came to an explosive end as Romain 'Crash'jean lost control of his Haas going up the hill behind the paddock, after putting a wheel over the curb. It hit the outer tire wall hard, removing its nose and the left front wheel, but the Frenchman walked away unharmed. With 1m 18s remaining, the session was not restarted.

Hamilton had set the pace with 1m 29.047s, from Raikkonen on 1m 29.163s and Verstappen on 1m 29.181s. Bottas, Vettel and Ricciardo followed, the Mercedes driver hugely lucky to get away with a massive slide into the dirt in Degner 2 on his first run. Interestingly, however, only Hamilton and Vettel were using the soft Pirelli tires, the rest had supersofts.

[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]'Crash'jean was the first to fail to get into Q2, his 1m 30.849s best beaten fractionally by teammate Kevin Magnussen. Then came Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly on 1m 31.317s, Williams’ Lance Stroll on 1m 31.409s, and the Saubers of Marcus Ericsson and Pascal Wehrlein on 1m 31.597s and 1m 31.885s respectively.

Having come close to Michael Schumacher’s absolute track record of 1m 28.954s in Q1, Hamilton didn’t just beat it in Q2, he unofficially pulped it, with a stunning lap of 1m 27.819s on supersofts. Vettel’s best was 1m 28.482s on the same rubber, as Raikkonen got close to Hamilton’s Q1 best on softs, with 1m 29.079s. That was soon bettered by Bottas, Verstappen and Ricciardo, however. Later, Vettel improved to 1m 28.225s, but Hamilton and Mercedes had made a massive statement ahead of Q3.

Vettel will start 2nd, but his Ferrari is no match for the Mercedes
Vettel will start 2nd, but his Ferrari is no match for the Mercedes

Further back, Alonso just aced McLaren teammate Stoffel Vandoorne, who on 1m 29.778s just failed to beat the Spaniard to the final Q3 slot. He was followed by Nico Hulkenberg’s Renault on 1m 29.879s, Kevin Magnussen’s surviving Haas on 1m 29.972s, Jolyon Palmer’s Renault on 1m 30.022s, and Carlos Sainz’s Toro Rosso on 1m 30.413s.

Bottas set the early pace in Q3 with 1m 27.986s, but Hamilton immediately beat that with 1m 27.345s before Vettel did likewise with 1m 27.797s. Ricciardo and Verstappen followed on 1m 28.444s and 1m 28.985s respectively.

Could Hamilton stay ahead and take pole for the first time at Suzuka?

Indeed he could, as he trimmed down to 1m 27.319s to head Bottas, who cut down to 1m 27.651s to beat Vettel, who improved to 1m27.791s. Verstappen momentarily went ahead of Ricciardo with 1m 28.332s, but the Aussie took fourth place back with 1m 28.306s as Raikkonen was left sixth on 1m 28.498s.

Behind them, Ocon held on to seventh with 1m 29.111s from team mate Perez on 1m 28.260s, with Massa close on 1m 28.480s and Alonso distant on 1m 30.687s.

Various grid penalties will mix up the provisional starting order. In summary, penalized for using additional power unit components are Sainz (20 grid places), Alonso (35), Palmer (20). Bottas and Raikkonen, meanwhile, get five-place drops for unscheduled gearbox changes.

Car destroying Verstappen pounds over the curbs. Will the car fail in the race Sunday?
Car destroying Verstappen pounds over the curbs. Will the car fail in the race Sunday?

Grosjean says he is mystified by the sudden loss of control which pitched him into the barriers at the end of Q1 in Suzuka on Saturday.

The Haas driver was trying to escape the elimination zone when he suffered a sudden snap of oversteer at the high-speed Turn 3, which ultimately resulted in a heavy impact with the tires and considerable damage to his car.

“I was sure we could go in the top ten, so I just went for my second run and the car went very much on the nose," explained Grosjean. “We need to understand what happened.

“For sure I went a bit fast into Turn 3, but it doesn’t really explain the fact that it went and I had a massive snap. Then I was just trying to catch it in Turn 4, but couldn’t really so I just went on the grass and then finally ended up in the wall on the other side.

“I need to try to understand why the car was so good on the first run and then just went on the second one. It’s positive that we made the right change for the first run, from FP3, but it’s a shame because I think we could have qualified in the top ten."


The two Mercedes men
The two Mercedes men

Lewis Hamilton
I've been coming here for so long, but it's my first pole here at Suzuka! It was definitely worth the wait. I didn't make one mistake all session and just kept getting better and better. We built the foundation in Q1 and then just built upon it as qualifying developed. I've been waiting all weekend for that moment, for that lap in Q3 – and it feels so good when that comes together. It's incredible to come here with this car and drive on this track. It's always been one of the greatest but with this car, it's mind-blowing, I wish everyone could feel what we feel. It's always been a crazy rollercoaster ride, but with the downforce on these cars, it's insane. The way you can throw the car around, I love that. We know how quick the Ferraris were in Malaysia, so it'll be interesting to see how we compare. We've put ourselves in the right position to get the job done on Sunday. I don't know if people watching realize how much effort goes into qualifying, but the team worked perfectly to get me out at the right time, into space on track and allow me to do what I needed to do – I'm so grateful for that. They did a great job, I hope I can starting on that tomorrow.

Valtteri Bottas
It was a tricky day. I had a bit of an off in FP3 and the car was damaged. But the guys did a great job getting the car back together, everything worked perfectly. It's been a few tough races, I've been off the pace quite a lot. So now I'm at least a bit closer and with the limited running we had today, it really wasn't too bad. But it's a shame to lose the position due to a grid penalty. The car has been feeling really different this weekend compared to last week. I was able to trust it more and drive a bit more naturally which always makes the result better. I should never lose self-confidence; it's the key in this sport. I just need to carry on, keep chipping away and learning from everything. I'm going to start on the Soft tire, so I think we have a chance to try a different strategy to all the other cars around. So hopefully we can gain a few places as overtaking is very difficult on this track.

Toto Wolff
The car has been performing well all day – the combination of track surface, layout and temperatures is suiting us much better than a week ago in Sepang. The swings of performance we have seen this season prove that this is a complicated science for each of the teams, and that small factors make a big difference to the final result. Today's result brings us another piece of the puzzle to help our understanding. As for the performance this afternoon, Lewis was untouchable today; he just built up the performance level lap by lap and improved with every run. It was a day that shows why he is one of the best of all time. On the other side of the garage, Valtteri did everything he needed to. He will start on the Soft tire, which will open up alternative strategies for him tomorrow, and delivered a very strong performance in Q3, finding time on each lap. Overall, a great starting point for tomorrow's race. But the hard work is still to be done.

James Allison
We had a good feeling with the car yesterday, although the sessions were somewhat disturbed by the weather conditions, and that was truly underlined this afternoon with extremely solid performances from both cars in qualifying. One of the nice things about motor racing is the way that it offers a chance of redemption at every Grand Prix. After the difficulties we encountered in Sepang, we have come here and demonstrated in the most eloquent way possible that we mean business here in Suzuka. We know that we have to do it all again tomorrow, but this gives us the best possible starting point for that challenge.

Qualifying Results

1 44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:29.047 1:27.819 1:27.319 18
2 77 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:29.332 1:28.543 1:27.651 17
3 5 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:29.352 1:28.225 1:27.791 19
4 3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing 1:29.475 1:28.935 1:28.306 13
5 33 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing 1:29.181 1:28.747 1:28.332 12
6 7 Kimi Räikkönen Ferrari 1:29.163 1:29.079 1:28.498 15
7 31 Esteban Ocon Force India Mercedes 1:30.115 1:29.199 1:29.111 16
8 11 Sergio Perez Force India Mercedes 1:29.696 1:29.343 1:29.260 17
9 19 Felipe Massa Williams Mercedes 1:30.352 1:29.687 1:29.480 16
10 14 Fernando Alonso McLaren Honda 1:30.525 1:29.749 1:30.687 13
11 2 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren Honda 1:30.654 1:29.778 11
12 27 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1:30.252 1:29.879 10
13 20 Kevin Magnussen Haas Ferrari 1:30.774 1:29.972 11
14 30 Jolyon Palmer Renault 1:30.516 1:30.022 10
15 55 Carlos Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso 1:30.565 1:30.413 11
16 8 Romain Grosjean Haas Ferrari 1:30.849 5
17 10 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso 1:31.317 7
18 18 Lance Stroll Williams Mercedes 1:31.409 6
19 9 Marcus Ericsson Sauber Ferrari 1:31.597 7
20 94 Pascal Wehrlein Sauber Ferrari 1:31.885 7

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