Brownie sushi points if you were up this morning first thing for the Japanese grand prix qualifying session. The Suzuka circuit is a driver favourite, a fan favourite, has a nice cameo in the film Senna and is always on at stupid o’clock in the morning (for European viewers that is). But qualifying was certainly worth the sleep deprivation, especially if you’re a Kobayashi fan…
Schumacher had a start to remember in Q1 at Suzuka (his first qualifying since announcing his retirement… again), almost failing to set a time in the session despite his 6 wins in Japan (and yes, that makes him statistically the most successful driver at the Japanese grand prix!). A good start when you have a 10 place grid penalty. Sergio Perez, however, seemed to have been given a new lease of life since the McLaren announcement, with impressive early pace.
The Red Bulls swept the board in FP3 and Vettel certainly continued the momentum with a strong showing in Q1 or, in the wise words of Jonathan Legard, “bang, take that”.
Surprise fail? Senna fell by the wayside due to traffic.
Vettel again made a sublime showing in Q2, with Jenson Button following close behind.
And what of home boy Kamui Kobayshi? At one point he nipped in there with a tidy 4th fastest.
Surprise fail? Nico Rosberg. Unsurprise fail? Michael Schumacher. Lewis must be chuffed at the prospect of a move to Mercedes.
Despite successfully getting through to Q3, Jenson Button and Nico Hulkenberg’s qualifying places were always going to be affected by their 5 place grid penalties. Vettel threw down the gauntlet early with a lap 1.3 seconds faster than anyone else.
Lewis was looking uncomfortable, and that’s both in the car and out. Despite the Red Bull dominance, an accident at spoon curve for Kimi Raikkonen prematurely ended the charge for pole and any hope for upsetting the Red Bull whitewash.
A familiar sight as Q3 came to the close, although not as familiar in recent times … a Red Bull lock-out of the front row. Vettel, the stronger of the pair throughout the session, took the pole over his teammate Mark Webber. Pole is on the dirty side of the track at Suzuka, so it certainly won’t be plain sailing for Vettel off the grid tomorrow. Lewis ended up qualifying behind his McLaren teammate Jenson Button, even after the application of a grid penalty, with yellow flags hampering his Q3.
Kobayashi pulled 4th out of the bag for the home crowd, which gets elevated to an unimaginably good 3rd place on the grid for tomorrow’s race. Ignoring the Red Bulls for a minute, the Sauber team and the Lotus-Renault team will be pleased with their performance at the fast Suzuka circuit: with Sauber drivers in 3rd and 5th and Lotus-Renault in 4th and 7th.
Here’s the top 10 for the race (adjusted for penalties):
- Sebastian Vettel
- Mark Webber
- Kamui Kobayashi
- Romain Grosjean
- Sergio Perez
- Fernando Alonso
- Kimi Raikkonen
- Jenson Button (qualified 3rd, with a 5 place grid penalty)
- Lewis Hamilton
- Felipe Massa (who didn’t make it into Q3, but makes the top 10 as Hulkenberg’s grid penalty promotes him to the big boy’s league)