Rosberg Clinches Suzuka Pole by 0.013s over Hamilton

Nico Rosberg delivered an inch-perfect lap to secure pole for Mercedes with Lewis Hamilton only 0.013s shy. The front-row lockout is the team’s 10th of the season. 

Rosberg has topped every session so far this weekend although Hamilton couldn’t have been much closer in Q3. Hamilton won’t mind 2nd too much given that he’s claimed victory from that position in the previous two races at Suzuka.

Rosberg’s pole may only be a matter of 82cm, but the German driver is optimistic for the race.

“It was going well all weekend. Had a good balance, feeling comfortable and that’s what allows me to put in a lap like that.

[Tomorrow is about] putting everything together. For sure the start is going to be an important one, definitely tomorrow, and we’ve seen this weekend that it’s not been too easy because its downhill and the grip has been a bit lower than usual.

It’s going to be an interesting challenge, and from then on I just need to get the tyre life to be able to do long enough stints to get the strategy to work. So it’s [about] putting everything together.”

– Nico Rosberg

Hamilton will be hoping that this year’s Suzuka trend of Rosberg topping the sessions won’t continue for tomorrow. The British driver must beat his teammate tomorrow to keep his title hopes alive. He said,

“I’m happy with qualifying. It’s been a weekend a lot of work, getting the set-up right, some big changes went into qualifying.

Considering that, to be that close, I was really happy with it.”

– Lewis Hamilton

An almost surprised Kimi Raikkonen lined up 3rd for Ferrari with a 1:30:909 – only three-tenths slower than the pole-sitter. The flying Finn said,

“We’ve been suffering a bit of understeer all weekend and even in qualifying just slowing us down a little bit in the first sector but it got a bit better in the end.

Obviously it got faster then but it’s the very small details that have to come together and we managed to put all these together more or less and the car’s been behaving quite good. It’s shame that Seb has a penalty but we will try to do the same if not better tomorrow.”

– Kimi Raikkonen

Vettel lined up 4th but will be demoted to 7th after his 3-place grid penalty and is seemingly under pressure at Ferrari with Maurizio Arrivabene announcing that a Vettel Ferrari partnership isn’t necessarily a concrete option beyond 2017. It will be interesting to see how Vettel responds. He’ll surely want to make the point of beating Raikkonen tomorrow.

Verstappen and Ricciardo lock-out the third-row. They’ll be hoping that the strong long-run pace they showed in free Practice holds out for the race tomorrow. 2nd place in the Constructors between Red Bull and Ferrari is still a heated battle.

Perez secured 7th for Force India and his teammate Nico Hulkenberg lines up 9th. Force India are crucially ahead of Williams again. The Mexican driver will be promoted to 6th after Vettel’s penalty is considered, he will be looking for his 6th consecutive points finish for Force India.

The landmark result of the session will be celebrated in the Haas garages. Both cars through to Q3 for the first time in the American team’s short history. Romain Grosjean starts 8th, his best qualifying result of the season,  with Gutierrez 10th. The team are looking to score a few more points before the season concludes and have found themselves in an ideal position to do so for tomorrow.

Elsewhere, Williams had a poor session with Bottas 11th and Massa 12th. It puts them in a good strategic position given they are the first cars with free starting tyre choice, but this does little to console the fact that Force India have beaten them on pace again.

Worse off are McLaren-Honda. Fernando Alonso could only manage 14th and Jenson Button failed to get into Q2 with 17th after Jolyon Palmer managed a good enough lap to survive in his Renault for 16th. The last time McLaren won in Suzuka was 2005 with Kimi Raikkonen who started that race in 17th, a tall order and a naive hope for Button to emulate such a recovery.

At the back, Esteban Ocon put in a good lap to outqualify the highly rated Pascal Wehrlein. The Manors start the Japanese Grand Prix at the back of the grid.