Rosberg pips Hamilton for pole at Suzuka; Raikkonen good enough for P3 for Ferrari
Nico Rosberg kept his recent positive momentum going by nabbing pole in Saturday qualifying at Suzuka in Japan. The Mercedes championship points leader pipped his nearest pursuer, teammate and archival Lewis Hamilton, by a mere .013 seconds as time wound down in Q3 and the checkered flag flew. That excellent performance capped off a terrific first two days in Japan that saw Rosberg fastest in every session and gave the German continued confidence in his quest to secure his first career F1 championship and take the title belt from his gifted English teammate. Despite his disappointment at being bested in quali all is not lost for Hamilton. The battling Briton was victorious the last two Grand Prix at Suzaka after starting from P2 and there is really nothing between the two Mercedes’ aces. But with the races running out and following a mechanical failure last week in Malaysia that cost him a sure victory and precious points Hamilton needs a good finish tomorrow and a sub-par performance or perhaps a reciprocal mechanical problem for Rosberg.
As he has so frequently in the second half of the season Kimi Raikkonen carried the fag for Ferrari with a lap good enough for P3. But while his much-vaunted teammate Sebastian Vettel was also quick with a P4 effort, the 4-time World Champion will be assessed a 3-spot grid penalty after last week’s first lap collision with Rosberg. An while the Red Bulls move up because of Vettel’s punishment, the team its drivers Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo have to be puzzled at being out-paced by Ferrari after making such great strides in their battle against the Scuderia. A week after a 3-4 finish at Sepang, Verstappen qualified only P5 and Ricciardo was P6. Rounding out the Top 10, the Force India team was once again impressive, with Sergio Perez quick enough for P7 while Nico Hulkenberg nabbed P9. And Haas F1 got both their drivers into Q3 for the first time in this their inaugural season, with Romain Grosjean a solid P8 and Esteban Gutierrez over half a second behind but still starting from P10 on the grid tomorrow.
Despite high expectations and recent signs of improvement, McLaren was back to being completely adrift only this time at their engine supplier Honda’s home track. Fernando Alonso could do not better than P15 and Jenson Button couldn’t make it out of Q1 and was way back in P17. It was a sobering reminder that the team still has a long way to go to get back to the Olympian heights of their storied past. Williams was also out to lunch and neither Valtteri Bottas (P11) or Felipe Massa (P12) could make it out of Q2.
Top 10 qualifiers for the Japanese Grand Prix:
|5||33||RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER||1:32.487||1:31.489||1:31.178||14|
|6||3||RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER||1:32.538||1:31.719||1:31.240||14|
|7||11||FORCE INDIA MERCEDES||1:32.682||1:32.237||1:31.961||12|
|9||27||FORCE INDIA MERCEDES||1:32.448||1:32.200||1:32.142||12|
Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix airs live in the wee hours here in the States — coverage starts at 1AM Eastern on NBC Sports Network. Hope to see you then for all the action from Suzuka!