Nico Rosberg yet again found that extra pace when he needed it, beating Lewis Hamilton to pole position for the Japanese GP.
After the drama of the morning, which included Red Bull’s shock announcement that Sebastian Vettel is leaving and a crash for Hamilton in FP3, it was business as usual in Saturday’s qualifying.
It was evident from the start that it would be a Mercedes-only battle at the front as Hamilton was quickest in Q1, 0.060s up on Rosberg, while the German was 0.032s up on his team-mate in Q2.
With almost nothing separating the Mercedes drivers, they went into the final shoot-out promising a closely-contested fight.
Rosberg fired the first salvo with a 1:32.629 with Hamilton’s first attempt 0.317s off the pace.
The German upped his pace on his second run, taking 0.123s off his previous best to clock a 1:32.506. And once again Hamilton was not able to match his team-mate, finishing 0.197s slower.
Williams came the closest – relatively speaking – to challenging the Mercedes pairing with Valtteri Bottas third fastest ahead of his team-mate Felipe Massa. The duo, though, were 0.622s and 1.021s off the pace.
Fernando Alonso qualified in his customary fifth place for the sixth time this season and will be joined by Daniel Ricciardo on the third row of the Suzuka grid.
McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen and Jenson Button were next in line ahead of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen.
Daniil Kvyat was unable to follow up news of his Red Bull promotion with a spot in the top ten as he qualified P13, beaten by Jean-Eric Vergne. For the second year running the Frenchman has been looked over for a Red Bull seat and is without a drive for 2015.
Lotus had yet another lacklustre afternoon as Pastor Maldonado and Romain Grosjean both dropped out in Q1.
Maldonado, who qualified P17, will start Sunday’s 53-lap race from the very back of the grid as he has a ten-place engine penalty. And as he can’t drop all 10 places, the remaining positions will be carried over to the next race in Russia.
Meanwhile, Marcus Ericsson had a small personal triumph as, for the first time this season, he won the Caterham versus Marussia qualifying battle, beating all three of his closest rivals.
01 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:32.506
02 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:32.703 +0.197
03 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:33.128 +0.622
04 Felipe Massa Williams 1:33.527 +1.021
05 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:33.740 +1.234
06 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1:34.075 +1.569
07 Kevin Magnussen McLaren 1:34.242 +1.736
08 Jenson Button McLaren 1:34.317 +1.811
09 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:34.432 +1.926
10 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1:34.548 +2.042
11 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:34.984
12 Sergio Perez Force India 1:35.089
13 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1:35.092
14 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:35.099
15 Adrian Sutil Sauber 1:35.364
16 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:35.681
17 Pastor Maldonado Lotus 1:35.917
18 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:35.984
19 Marcus Ericsson Caterham 1:36.813
20 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:36.943
21 Kamui Kobayashi Caterham 1:37.015
22 Max Chilton Marussia 1:37.481
Gallery: Qualy Day At Suzuka