A rather eventful qualifying session in Suzuka was upon us, featuring plenty of drama with engines and strategy errors. Lewis Hamilton came out on top, whereas Ferrari ruinously stumbled with the timing as rain was incoming.
Hamilton confirmed his competitiveness straight away, although Ferrari managed to stay close to the Briton. Japan’s unstable weather conditions and low temperatures did not delay some drama from coming in. Sebastian Vettel spun during his attempt to polish his first sector and just seconds after Marcus Ericsson crashed out at Turn 7, bringing the session to a halt. Q1 was resumed with nearly 10 minutes remaining.
Rain was reported within the last 90 seconds of Q1, but it did not prevent most of the drivers from improving their laptimes, resulting in a successful run for both Honda-powered drivers, who managed to get through. Lance Stroll clawed his way out of Q1 in P15, knocking Nico Hulkenberg out in P16. The other eliminated drivers were: Sergey Sirotkin in P17, Fernando Alonso in P18, Stoffel Vandoorne in P19 and Marcus Ericsson at the bottom.
Both Bottas and Hamilton went out on Soft tyres and still successfully edged out the Ferrari duo by over 2 tenths on SuperSofts. Not even a compound disadvantage could stop Mercedes from being unyielding.
Daniel Ricciardo lamented a loss of power, which forced him to revert back to the pits, pushed by the crew. The Australian has missed Q3 four times in the last six races, a rather worrying stat for Red Bull and the driver himself. In the meantime, Toro Rosso drivers gained a double Q3 access at Honda’s home race, making a powerful statement on their progression.
Eliminated: Charles Leclerc in P11, Kevin Magnussen in P12, Carlos Sainz in P13, Lance Stroll in P14 and Daniel Ricciardo in P15.
Everyone except Ferrari decided to go out on the slicks. Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel on Inters pitted after they both reported dry asphalt. The session turned into a race against time, as rain was about to come in once again.
As rain intensified, Mercedes could celebrate their front row lockout with Hamilton on pole. Max Verstappen will open the second row, next to Kimi Raikkonen in fourth. Ferrari’s massive and costly evaluation mistake translated into Sebastian Vettel’s P9, with no time being set by the German. It was all about timing, as it would have been crucial to finalise a laptime within the first two or three minutes of Q3, but instead Ferrari went on a pointless gamble on Intermediate tyres.
Honda celebrates a satisfying result, with Hartley's P6 and Gasly's P7, as they beat both Force Indias and managed to start ahead of a Ferrari. Positive qualifying for Grosjean as well, who is starting 5th of Soft tyres tomorrow.