Rosberg topped the final practice session to go into qualifying as favourite. Despite some pressure from Ferrari, he delivered a clean lap on his final run in Q3 to grab his third Japanese pole in a row. Hamilton had struggled, running wide at Degner and couldn't match his team mate. Nonetheless, he lines up second, the position from which he won this race last year.
Nico Rosberg, 1st, 1:30.647
"I've been feeling great all weekend, having felt incredibly comfortable in the car. It gave me the confidence to push even harder at the end of Q3 which meant I pulled out a great lap to recover pole from Lewis. Suzuka is a really difficult circuit because of the varying corners which means it's even more difficult to get the car set up just right. It's great to start from P1, but as we've realised, it's not the most important thing this year as you also need to get the start and the race strategy spot on. Lewis will push hard and so will the Ferraris and the Red Bulls. It's clear that both these teams looked very strong on the high fuel. It will be an exciting race tomorrow, in front of Suzuka's amazing fans. I'm definitely looking forward to it!"
Lewis Hamilton, 2nd, 1:30.660
"This weekend has not been that easy. I'd been veering one way with the setup of the car and then had to shuffle back going into qualifying and it felt like I was in no-mans-land as we approached Q1. With that in mind, I'm extremely happy that I was able to bring it back to that kind of gap. Of course, starting on pole is always a good thing but let's hope the work we've been doing on the starts pays off. It's also still hard to know at this stage what the weather is going to do but I'll do the best I can tomorrow."
Toto Wolff, Head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport
"What an incredibly close qualifying, just 13 thousandths between our drivers after their final laps; it was a great showdown. Nico has looked strong all weekend but didn't put the lap together in the first run of Q3, so he had to put everything on the line to claim pole. As for Lewis, he has been a fraction behind Nico in most sessions, so it was a fantastic performance to make such a fight of it in Q3 and come so close to pole. It was another session that shows what is so good about their rivalry: in Singapore, Nico was the one with the advantage; in Sepang, Lewis had the upper hand; and now it's so closely matched. They just keep pushing each other to new heights every week and pushing the limits of what the car can do. Looking ahead to tomorrow, we know it will be a close race. The gaps are getting smaller at the end of the season, like we expected, and with Vettel's grid penalty, both Red Bulls will be very close on track - as well as Kimi starting from P3. Their long runs were extremely competitive yesterday, so it will be a tough race and important to take our opportunities. The weather could also play its part, so we will need to prepare diligently and execute our race plan perfectly."
Paddy Lowe, Executive Director (Technical)
"It was a terrifically close competition for pole between Lewis and Nico. Just 0.013 splitting the two of them when it came down to the final run in Q3. Lewis had the initial advantage with the first run at the start of the final session but it was Nico who took pole position in the last few seconds. It was very tense because it was also very close with Red Bull and Ferrari, all six cars crossing within 0.400 seconds of each other. We're very happy to claim a 10th front row lockout of the season at this track, one of the most iconic of the entire Formula One season. We're looking forward to the race tomorrow, where the most difficult job still has to be done."
Ferrari and Red Bull had looked evenly matched on practice pace, but in qualifying it was the Scuderia who pushed Mercedes the hardest. They topped the timing sheets in Q1 whilst running soft rubber to the hard tyres of Hamilton and Rosberg, but had to settle for third and fourth in Q3. Vettel carries a three-place grid drop after his lap-one antics in Malaysia, so is set to start seventh.
Kimi Raikkonen, 3rd, 1:30.949
"Overall the car has been behaving quite good; we had suffered from some understeer, but we have been slowly getting better with the set up and the speed and I'm positively surprised how competitive and close to the Mercedes we were. Today the car was a bit less understeering, and this helped a lot in the first part of the lap. The third position is not too bad but obviously we want to be higher up. This is what we've got now and it's a pity that Seb has a penalty, because the team had quite a strong session today. Obviously we are happy, but we still have some work to be done to improve things and we have to do another good day tomorrow. We sure have some speed and it's not going to suddenly disappear tomorrow. Usually we are a bit better in the race, but we have to wait and see: it will depend on conditions and other stuff but we'll do our best."
Sebastian Vettel, 4th, 1:31.028
"It has been a great result for us as a team; as for myself, obviously I messed up a bit in Q3 with the last sector, and lost a bit too much time. But, all in all, it has been a very good qualifying, our car has been handling well all through the sessions, due to a combination of many things, and it's satisfying to be with both cars ahead of the Red Bulls. For sure, tomorrow I'll have to start a bit further back because of the grid penalty, but this is what it is, we take it. Even so, I think the speed will help us to come back and then we'll see what we can do. I think it will be a close fight. Much will depend on how people handle their tyres, because in the first stint everybody starts on the same compound, then we see how the strategies develop."
Red Bull split the Ferraris in FP3, but in qualifying could only manage fifth and sixth. Verstappen won the intra-team battle for the second race in a row, despite suffering with loss of gear sync in Q3. Both drivers will benefit from Vettel's penalty to start further forward on the grid.
Max Verstappen, 5th, 1:31.178
“Not such a bad result in qualifying but I think the whole team expected a bit better. We wanted to be in front of the Ferraris, we were very close but the balance of our car wasn’t quite right. In the low speed corners where we are usually very strong it didn’t quite work for us today, this could be the changing conditions but I’m not entirely sure. Staring fourth on the grid tomorrow gives us a chance of a good result so we can still be positive. Our race pace looks ok but everyone looks quite strong at the moment so it is quite unknown how tomorrow will play out. It will be hard to overtake here and like you can see from qualifying it is very close, I expect the same during the race. If we can have a good start like in Malaysia then we can achieve a good result. We will all sit down and work through this evening to make sure we are as prepared as possible for the race.”
Daniel Ricciardo, 6th, 1:31.240
“To be honest I was hoping for a bit more from qualifying. We knew it was going to be close with Ferrari and we were hoping to get in front of them but they had good pace. It’s a little frustrating as we were losing time down the straights and we need to find out why. I felt like I was doing all I could and I think the lap itself was okay. In the second last lap, I think I found a little bit more in Sector 1 but I felt like it hurt the tyres in the last part of the lap. I’m happy with our long run race pace and should have similar pace to Ferrari, we expect them to be our real rivals in the race. We also expect Mercedes to be conservative and turn down their power in the race, so we’ll see what happens. We’ll gain a position through Sebastian’s penalty, starting P5 is better than P6 and hopefully we have a good battle on our hands.”
Christian Horner, Team Principal
“An extremely tight qualifying where both drivers extracted the maximum from the car. They were very competitive in Sector 1 today, unfortunately we lost a bit of time in Sector 3 on some of the more power dominated areas of the track. Nonetheless, we qualified in fifth and sixth, which will become fourth and fifth tomorrow, and hopefully we can take the good race pace we had in free practice into the grand prix.”
Williams opted to do just the one run in Q2, but the strategy didn't pay off with both cars being bumped out in 11th and 12th. They do have the advantage of free tyre choice and will look to make up places from the start to limit any constructors' championship points losses to arch rivals Force India, who have both cars starting ahead.
Valtteri Bottas, 11th, 1:32.315
"Looking at our qualifying performance here from the past few years it’s disappointing not to be in Q3. We just weren’t quick enough today. I had a little bit of traffic in Q2, but the speed just wasn’t there. The positive thing from today is that we have a free choice of tyres for the race. We have the same opportunity that we had in Malaysia to do something different with the strategy, hopefully we can make good use of that."
Felipe Massa, 12th, 1:32.380
"That wasn’t the qualifying we expected. I think the biggest surprise were the laptimes from Haas. They qualified in front of both us and Force India in Q2. We are one tenth slower than the Force Indias, like we were in Malaysia, but I’m surprised by Haas. It’s true that our laptimes on the new tyres wasn’t so great, so I’m a bit disappointed with that. The race tomorrow will be tough. It will be a very big fight. But we’ll try everything we can to have a strong race and hopefully score some good points. All we can do is try."
Rob Smedley, Head of Performance Engineering
"It’s disappointing to be 11th and 12th and not make it through to Q3. However, what we can see is that our drivers are evenly matched and we’ve got most of what we could have out of today. The car just wasn’t quick enough. It’s going to be more about the race around here and we can definitely have a good strategy from where we are. We’ve got the car set up with a good compromise for all conditions, so whatever the weather brings we will be prepared. We’ve got to look forward now and get as many points as we can tomorrow."
Ericsson won the intra-team battle at Sauber, edging Nasr by a tenth as they took 19th and 20th positions. It is the third race in a row that the Swede has had the beating of his Brazilian team mate, but the real battle will be tomorrow.
Marcus Ericsson, 19th, 1:33.222
“It has been a tricky weekend so far. Compared to last weekend in Malaysia, here it has been more challenging to point the car in a direction where I wanted it to be. Therefore, it was rather a difficult qualifying, so we cannot be satisfied with this result. It is a new day tomorrow, and we will fight back.”
Felipe Nasr, 20th, 1:33.332
“It was a disappointing qualifying for us. My first run in Q1 was good, and I put in a decent lap time. When I went out for the second try I could not bring the tyres up to the ideal working window. In the end I could not improve my lap time. I am very disappointed with this result. We need to understand what happened.”
Haas had a poor race last time out in Malaysia, losing both cars to mechanical problems. They performed much better today, with Grosjean and Gutierrez both making it to Q3, the first time the American team have had two cars in the final part of qualifying. Grosjean clocked an identical best time to Perez, but will start two places behind the Mexican thanks to Vettel's grid penalty.
Romain Grosjean, 8th, 1:31.961
“I feel pretty good after that and I’m very pleased for the whole team. We brought all the updates we had. We made the new front wing work on the car and that made a difference in qualifying. The whole session went very smoothly. I didn’t get my DRS (Drag Reduction System) on the last stretch of the final corner. But, we’re here and tomorrow’s a long race at a very difficult track. Tire degradation will be very important. Hopefully, if the balance is as good tomorrow as it was today, we should be fine.”
Esteban Gutierrez, 10th, 1:32.547
“I feel so happy for the whole team. It was surprising to arrive into qualifying and put both cars into Q3 as we started the weekend in a very difficult position. We lost a lot of practice time in FP2 and we were not completely happy with the balance of the car, but as a team we managed to recover completely. It’s a great skill that we need to keep hold of as this really made the difference today. We pushed the maximum we could and we fought right until the end. I feel very proud of the whole team. They all deserve this as they’ve been doing a great job. Without them, without my crew, my engineers, my mechanics, today would not have been possible. So, I dedicate what we have achieved today to them. Tomorrow, I’ll be pushing to the maximum and I won’t be looking back.”
Guenther Steiner, team Principal
“A very good day for us. We completed our program in FP3, the guys learned a lot and we were able to set the cars up for qualifying resulting in P8 and P10. To get both Romain and Esteban into Q3 was one of the targets for this year and we’ve now achieved it. If you’re in your first year and you get two cars in there by merit, it’s fantastic. Hats off to the team and to the drivers. Tomorrow we’re going to try to do a good race and, for sure, it’s possible now to get into the points.”
Palmer scored his first championship point last time out in Malaysia and the confidence gained has carried over to Japan, where he made Q2 for the first time since Belgium. Magnussen might have exited in Q1, but can take heart from Renault's apparent pace, shown by both drivers finishing in the top ten in final practice.
Kevin Magnussen, 18th, 1:33.023
“We had good pace in FP3 this morning and looked strong, so I was hopeful for qualifying, especially as the car and conditions felt similar to this morning. We seem to lose pace, however, which was surprising. Maybe others picked up theirs, I’ll have to look at the data. In the position we are now to start tomorrow’s race, a bit of rain might not be bad ! Regardless, we will race as hard as always and we all know a lot can happen in 53 laps.”
Jolyon Palmer, 16th, 1:32.807
“On the one hand I’m quite pleased ; I think we did well to get into Q2. Unfortunately I had a yellow flag on my final lap in the session and that probably cost a couple of tenths, which would have put me 12th or 13th so that’s a little bit disappointing. We started 19th and scored a point last weekend in Malaysia, so there is definitely a chance to do the same tomorrow. We’re looking similarly competitive, the race will be long and tyre strategy will play a hand… There are a lot of similarities to the last time out so we’ll keep pushing and see what happens.”
Alan Permane, Trackside Operations Director
"It’s fair to say that we didn’t qualify as well as we would have hoped, although it was great to see Jolyon progress through to Q2 today. The car has been working very well here this weekend and we had a productive morning. For some reason however, we struggled with grip this afternoon despite the cars remaining reasonably well balanced. Both drivers reported a general lack of grip and that’s what we will look into overnight.
"Starting in 16th and 18th on the grid here at Suzuka Circuit won’t be easy and we will work on race strategies with the three types of tyres available for tomorrow’s race. We are expecting similar weather conditions to today, though perhaps a little bit cooler, and no rain."
Both cars into Q3 at the expense of Williams means it is advantage Force India in the constructors' championship battle for fourth place. Perez was 'best of the rest' behind Ricciardo in seventh, whilst Hulkenberg struggled to put the perfect lap together and finished ninth.
Sergio Perez, 7th, 1:31.961
“It was a very intense qualifying session and there were lots of competitive cars out there – I even finished with the same time as Romain [Grosjean] and I was lucky to be classified ahead of him. I am very happy about our performance, especially my lap in Q3: the margins are so tight around us and the smallest mistake makes the difference between starting seventh or twelfth, but today we did a really good job as a team. Starting one place ahead of where we qualified, because of Vettel’s penalty, puts us in a strong position for a good result tomorrow. If we have a normal race, with no strange circumstances, we can aim to score some important points. The strategy will depend on the weather conditions tomorrow, especially if it becomes much cooler than today. Overall I feel positive: we have done 70% of the job today, but the remaining 30% tomorrow is the most important.”
Nico Hulkenberg, 1:32.142
“I’m pretty happy with today and I’m starting in a good position tomorrow. My final lap in Q3 was looking really strong, but I lost a couple of tenths at the final chicane – it was okay going in, but I didn’t get the best exit from the corner. So maybe I could have been a little higher up the grid with a totally clean lap. We saw again today just how close things are in the midfield and I expect a big fight tomorrow. Track position is crucial here so it’s especially important to make the most of our starting positions with a clean start.”
Robert Fernley, Deputy Team Principal
“I think our performance today is a fair reflection of the speed we have shown all weekend. Sergio and Nico delivered some excellent laps, especially in Q2, which were needed to ensure we progressed through to Q3. The lap times in the middle of the pack were incredibly tight and it’s satisfying to come away from the session with both cars inside the top ten. For tomorrow, we can approach the race knowing we have good race pace and the opportunity to score some useful points.”
Button narrowly exited in Q1 - missing out by an agonising 0.032s. Alonso, running the new-spec engine, did make the second part of qualifying but could only manage 15th. After getting at least one car through to Q3 for the last few races, this was a disappointing day for the team at Honda's home Grand Prix.
Fernando Alonso, 15th, 1:32.689
“After some strong weekends, where we made it into Q3 and were able to fight for points, qualifying 15th and 17th is not the best place to be starting Honda’s home grand prix.
“So far, we just haven’t been able to find the speed in the car this weekend. We’ve been struggling with high-speed and straight-line performance too, so it was difficult to know which way to go in terms of downforce and balance.
“It looks like our performance is changing from circuit to circuit, and we need to analyse exactly why we seem to be underperforming here.
“Unless it rains tomorrow, it’ll be difficult for us to recover enough positions in the race in order to score points. But I’ll be attacking tomorrow – I have nothing to lose.”
Jenson Button, 17th, 1:32.851
“It’s been a tough weekend so far. I switched over to Fernando’s set-up this morning after failing to find a balance on Friday – my car just wasn’t working.
“To be that close to Fernando – just three-hundredths off his best time in Q1 – after the weekend we’ve had so far, really wasn’t too horrific. Our lap-time today is simply a fair reflection of how fast our car is around here – and that meant I went out in Q1.
“Our package works best in lower-speed corners and under heavy braking; Suzuka has lots of mid- to high-speed corners and long bends – plus long straights – which are all trickier for us.”
Eric Boullier, McLaren-Honda Racing Director
“Clearly, we’re disappointed to have qualified only 15th and 17th here at Suzuka, host circuit to Honda’s home race.
“Having said that, both Fernando and Jenson drove good laps, and ended up separated by just a few hundredths of a second. Sadly, today, that was the difference between progressing to Q2 and not doing so, which is why Jenson failed by the very narrowest of margins.
“Suzuka is a great racetrack – a dramatic and challenging one in fact – but the truth is that our car is ill-suited to its long straights and mid- to high-speed corners.
“As always, we’ll do our best tomorrow in an effort to score world championship points, but to be honest it’ll probably be an uphill struggle.”
Yusuke Hasegawa, Honda R&D Co Ltd Head of F1 Project & Executive Chief Engineer
“Today’s qualifying result was disappointing, with Fernando P15 and Jenson P17. Suzuka Circuit is a very difficult track to pull out a great lap unless both the chassis and power unit were perfectly well-balanced, so I think we were just lacking that as a team today to pull off a Q3 lap.
“However, it was a very tight session and we are not far off in lap-times to the Q3 runners, so we are looking forward to tomorrow’s race strategy and management, and continue to push for better results.”
Wehrlein has a five-place grid drop for an unscheduled gearbox change for tomorrow's race, and as such was unlikely to feature too heavily in Q1. Ocon was marginally ahead of his team mate by two tenths and the duo will start side by side on the final row.
Esteban Ocon, 21st, 1:33.353
“Quite a bit more in the tank, unfortunately. I made a small mistake in Turn 14, which I’m pretty unhappy with, and which could have put us ahead of Sauber. So it was pretty tight with them and I feel bad for the guys because everything on my side has been strong this weekend. I hope to make it up to them in the race tomorrow.
“Turns 1 and 2 here are very different to Sepang though. It’s about man and machine and the team do a pretty good job of the starts, so I’ll give it everything I’ve got off the line and we’ll see. In the meantime, well done to the team. We’ve made good progress here that is not always easy for those outside to see, but I’m hoping it will come good in the race.”
Pascal Wehrlein, 22nd, 1:33.561
“Last night we had to change the gearbox, so I have a grid penalty, then this morning we had another problem that meant I wasn’t able to complete my qualifying preparation; I didn’t get to finish my soft tyre run. So it’s difficult to find the positives in the weekend so far. I guess the grid penalty doesn’t affect us from where we’re starting, but it’s still pretty disappointing.
“I try to start every day as if it’s a new one, particularly on race day. I love the Suzuka track; it’s really nice and challenging, and the first sector in particular is awesome. It will be tough, but we need a good start, a good strategy, fast pit stops and some opportunities to come our way. We’ll push hard for a good result.”
Dave Ryan, Racing Director
“A good day for Esteban, who had a really strong qualifying and was looking good to get ahead of Sauber, had it not been for a small error that cost him a few tenths. Underlying that performance is a sure sign that we’ve improved since Sepang and that’s good to see, as it’s the product of a lot of work right across the team. What is less good is the fact that Pascal hasn’t been in a position to demonstrate that progress, his problems of yesterday having necessitated a gearbox change overnight and then a further setback towards the end of FP3 not helping his preparation for qualifying. However, as we all know it’s all about the race tomorrow and I’m sure we’ll see both drivers fighting to get the most out of the car’s full potential. Finally, a huge thanks to the team, who have been absolutely fantastic these past few races. It’s a real pleasure working alongside them and it can only get better as we develop further.”
Despite making it to Q2, the Toro Rossos could go no further. Sainz had an unfortunate day - confined to the pits for much of FP3 with a CU issue, he spun on his final run in Q2 and the resulting yellows hampered Kvyat's flying lap as well. they will be hoping for better luck tomorrow.
Daniil Kvyat, 13th, 1:32.623
“I’m quite happy with my qualifying session. Both my Q1 and Q2 laps were good and to be honest I don’t think there was much more to extract from the car today and I did my best. I also think the whole team around me works very well, we now follow our own system which works well – they deserve the good laps I put in! We will now go for it in tomorrow’s race and see how close we can get to those point positions. It will be interesting if the weather mixes it all up a bit, but it’s not something we can ask for and we are ready for any scenario – we will just settle in and see what we can do from a P13. I’m feeling better and better in the car, much more confident every time and I look forward to tomorrow’s race!”
Carlos Sainz, 14th, 1:32.685
“A bit of a tough and tricky day for us. I missed out on FP3 due to an issue with the CU, so I was many laps behind the rest of the field when it got to Qualifying. At a track like this one it’s very difficult to recover your rhythm… I had to play catch-up from the start and it was a bit of a stressful session, nearly not making it into Q2 because of timing… Luckily we did, but then in Q2 I wasn’t improving my lap-time during my second run and then made a mistake when trying a different line and entry speed at Spoon… It’s the type of things you usually try in FP3 if I say the truth! It’s therefore a Saturday that definitely didn’t go our way from the beginning of the day onwards, but hopefully tomorrow will be a better day! Looking at the positive side, if today we had a bad Quali but still ended up P14, it means that the car has the potential to be a bit more ahead. We have a good race pace for tomorrow – it might be tough to get to the points as there are a few other teams quicker than us, but as soon as something happens we should be the best of the rest.”
James Key, Technical Director
“We hoped for a bit more today, but I think realistically we probably did as well as we could. We were happy with certain aspects of our balance from yesterday but not so much with others, so we worked overnight on some of the slow-speed corner performance and it looked better in FP3. Unfortunately, we could only prove this with one car as Carlos had a CU issue and we didn’t have much time to fix it during the session. As a result Carlos was only able to complete half a lap this morning – it looked like quite a decent one on the Medium tyre, but we’ll never know how that could’ve gone now and how he could’ve progressed, so the first time he ran the soft tyre in today’s conditions was in Qualifying. As for the Qualifying session, both drivers got through Q1 fine, we sent Daniil out as a precaution at the end of the session but his second lap was not required and we brought him in. We didn’t progress much in Q2 with our lap times, but most of our performance loss was from the straights between Turns 11 and 13 and Turns 14 and 16 which we cannot do much about, we finished around three tenths off the top ten. The second half of the lap here in Suzuka relies a lot on straight-line speed, which is quite a big weakness for us now, so we played to our strengths with our set-up to try and maximize our cornering capability, and that kind of shows in Sector 1 compared to Sectors 2 and 3. However to have both cars next to each other, mid-grid, with reasonably good long-run pace from yesterday’s high fuel work and a free choice of tyres I think it’s all still to play for tomorrow. There are cars ahead which on race pace we hope to overhaul and we’re surrounded by some interesting competition as well, with Williams just ahead and a McLaren behind. I’m looking forward to the race and I think we can be quite hopeful tomorrow to contend for some points.”
Paul Hembery, Pirelli Motorsport Director
“Track temperatures were cooler than they had been yesterday, which affected tyre behaviour, along with the overnight rain that washed whatever rubber had been laid on the track yesterday away. The superior speed of the soft tyre meant that it was the automatic choice for qualifying and so the top 10 will all be starting on this compound tomorrow. Where they go from here in terms of strategy will be very interesting, with the whole field closely matched in terms of speed and the possibility of cool and variable weather.”