With so much news in the paddock, and with Mercedes’ massive advantage, Qualifying was never going to be the main story on Saturday…
Nico Rosberg’s ninth pole position of the season means he’s virtually uncatchable in the first ever Pole Trophy championship for 2014. He leads Lewis 9:6 with just four races to go. “Today I just wasn’t really feeling it,” shrugged Lewis.
Lewis locked a tyre at the hairpin on his final flying lap but came up two tenths short of Nico. Having had a corner of the car rebuilt after his accident in final free practice Hamilton had been straight back on the pace. In Q1 he was faster than Nico, but gradually, through Q2 and Q3 Rosberg improved in each sector.
Q1: S1 Lewis, S2 Nico, S3 Lewis
Q2: S1 Lewis, S2 Nico, S3 Nico
Q3: S1 Nico, S2 Nico, S3 Nico.
Fernando Alonso’s 5th place was the 25th time he had finished in P5 for Ferrari out of 92 races. It was the 35th time in his career. Disappointingly, despite claiming that he had got on top of his turn-in issues after Singapore, Kimi Raikkonen was consistently 0.8 of a second behind his team-mate.
Williams look like they have every chance of consolidating their 3rd place in the Constructors’ Championship after locking out the second row of the grid. Valtteri Bottas was a towering 0.6 quicker than team-mate Felipe Massa yet such was the FW36’s advantage that no other driver could fill the space between Bottas and Massa and Felipe still had a couple of tenths on Fernando Alonso one place behind him.
Fresh from his revelation that he will be leaving Red Bull at the end of the season Sebastian Vettel struggled in Qualifying at a track where he has always shone. He has won four out of the last five races at Suzuka and never qualified lower than P2. He has never started the race at Suzuka staring at another gearbox. Daniel Ricciardo has won from sixth place before this season and done so in the mixed conditions that are expected on Sunday.
Jenson Button, like Vettel, has a 9:6 qualifying deficit to a younger team-mate, and also might be moving on (or out) next season. Jenson managed to stay just a tenth of a second behind Kevin Magnussen as the McLaren pairing finished in P7 and P8.
Nico Hulkenberg was once billed as the unluckiest driver not to get a drive in a competitive seat on the grid. And his last run in Q2 was symptomatic of a season where the Force India driver has let things slip. Coming into the final sector he was a few hundredths inside the time needed to put him through into Q3, made a mistake at the chicane and finished down in P14 (though he was P12 at the time). Team-mate Sergio Perez will line up in P12. The Hulk, like Jenson Button, excels when its marginally slippy and should improve tomorrow.
Despite Daniil Kvyat’s sudden promotion to the Red Bull team, there is no space left at Toro Rosso for old man, 24-year-old Jean-Eric Vergne. Yet the old geezer managed to outpace Kvyat to take P11 to the Russian’s P13. It won’t stay that way as Jean-Eric will take an engine penalty and slide down the grid along with similarly penalised Pastor Maldonado.
It was a curiously anti-climactic Qualifying session, possibly the dullest of the season. With so much news reverberating around the paddock, with Mercedes boasting such a big advantage over the rest of the field, with Williams a clear-cut second, and with the near-certainty of rain tomorrow it was more of a question of ‘let’s get it over with’ and get back to the paddock rumour mill.
Some of the grandstands in Suzuka, disappointingly, were half full for Qualifying. The fact that there was great doubt about Kamui Kobayashi’s participation in the race until this Wednesday, plus the fact Typhoon Phanfone is on the way will have had an effect on last minute ticket sales, but it’s a continuation of the worrying trend seen in Germany. There was a time when both Germany and Japan had strong enough support to justify two F1 races in a season.