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Qualifying analysis - Mercedes breathe a sigh of relief

26 Sep 2015

After everyone had packed four hours of dry free practice into just one in FP3, thanks to yesterday’s rain, there was the slight air of a lottery about Suzuka qualifying. The track had not evolved much either, and because of that the medium-tyre runs were not as quick as expected and last year’s pole-winning lap if 1m 32.502s from Nico Rosberg wasn’t bettered. That might, however, have been because of Daniil Kvyat’s massive shunt at the start of the final runs in Q3, which brought out the red flag to end the session. We take a team-by-team look at Saturday’s formbook in Japan…

Mercedes

Nico Rosberg, 1m 32.584s, P1
Lewis Hamilton, 1m 32.660s, P2

Rosberg and Hamilton were both as relieved as their Mercedes crews to see the F1 W06 Hybrids back on form after Singapore. The German said he was very comfortable with his in both FP3 and through most of qualifying, and was pleased with his laps; this was his first pole since Spain in May. Hamilton admitted that he locked up approaching the hairpin and ran wide, then also made a mistake in the final corner of his first run, but said he felt he was putting a good lap together when the red flag was shown for Kvyat’s accident.

Williams

Valtteri Bottas, 1m 33.024s, P3
Felipe Massa, 1m 33.337s, P5

Williams’ work in Japan was helped by the new parts that they had run to increase downforce in Singapore, and both drivers were well on the pace here in both FP3 and qualifying. Bottas said he was very pleased with his FW37 all day, while Massa said he just didn’t quite get his lap together at the start of Q3.

Ferrari

Sebastian Vettel, 1m 33.245s, P4
Kimi Raikkonen, 1m 33.347s, P6

Ferrari just lacked the edge they had in Singapore. Vettel admitted that it took him a while to feel his car, but that his lap in Q3 was a step in the right direction. Raikkonen said that his SF15-T lacked bite as he struggled to get the tyres working.

Red Bull

Daniel Ricciardo, 1m 33.497s, P7
Daniil Kvyat, No Q3 time, P10, will start from pit lane

Ricciardo drove the wheels off his RB11 but couldn’t better seventh. Kvyat caused the final part of Q3 to be red flagged after losing control of his sister car going through the right-handed Turn 10 just before the hairpin. He put a wheel on the grass, then the car got on to the gravel as he corrected and hit the outer wall, which removed the two left-hand wheels. It then rolled before coming to rest the right way up. It was a big shunt, but he was unharmed, and able to extract himself from the cockpit. He will start Sunday’s race from the pit lane in his rebuilt car.

Lotus

Romain Grosjean, 1m 33.967s, P8
Pastor Maldonado, 1m 34.497s, P13, will start P11

Grosjean said he was excited to have got through to Q3, having thought he was half a second off, and will be aiming to score points to give his team a boost. Maldonado said he was still struggling in Q2 to get the best from the medium tyres. He nearly made it, but things were so tight in the lower midfield that two-tenths was the difference between 10th and 13th.

Force India

Nico Hulkenberg, 1m 34.390s, P11, will start P13
Sergio Perez, No Q3 time, P9

Newly re-signed Perez did a solid job to get through to Q3, where like everyone else he lost out after Kvyat’s crash. He was about to do his first run, so ended up with no time. Hulkenberg took his seemingly habitual 11th slot, but dropped back three places when the penalty he received in Singapore for his collision with Massa was applied.

Toro Rosso

Carlos Sainz, 1m 34.453s, P12, will start P10
Max Verstappen, No Q2 time, P15, will start P17

Toro Rosso should have made Q3 easily, the way the STR10 has been running this weekend, notwithstanding the fact that both rookies had to learn Suzuka all over again in the dry. Sainz said he was just beginning to feel good in Q2 when his front tyres started vibrating so badly that he couldn’t improve his time.

Verstappen was as energetic as ever but brought the yellow flags out on the approach to the hairpin at the end of Q1 when his STR10 lost power and he stopped at an odd angle. The car could not be retrieved in time for him to run in Q2, but in any case the power loss problem would have had to be investigated. His poor choice of parking position was deemed dangerous by the stewards, who handed the Dutchman a three-place grid penalty as a result.

McLaren

Fernando Alonso, 1m 34.785s, P14, will start P12
Jenson Button, 1m 35.664s, P16, will start P14

Alonso said his lap was the best he had ever done round Suzuka, but it still left him only 14th, or 13th as Hulkenberg’s penalty was applied. Button was not happy early on when his team gave him the incorrect engine settings for his first run in Q1, which resulted in discharge of the battery pack and no ERS for the remainder of the lap. He was also another to suffer under the yellows approaching the hairpin after Verstappen’s Toro Rosso stopped at the end of Q1.

Sauber

Marcus Ericsson, 1m 35.673s, P17, will start P15
Felipe Nasr, 1m 35.760s, P18, will start P16

Ericsson had a hairy half spin when he got a wheel on the grass approaching the Spoon Curve, then both Sauber drivers were unlucky to lose their chance of graduation to Q2 after Verstappen’s Toro Rosso stopped just before the hairpin at the end of Q1 and brought out the yellows.

Marussia

Will Stevens, 1m 38.783s, P19, will start P18
Alexander Rossi, 1m 47.114s, will start P19

Stevens was able to set his best lap the right side of one yellow flag period, but Rossi wasn’t. Then when the Verstappen yellows came out both lost out, the American more so as he had yet to set a decent time.

Note - all starting positions provisional.