Sebastian Vettel beat Charles Leclerc to pole position at the Japanese Grand Prix despite the updates Mercedes brought to Suzuka, as Bottas marginally out-qualified team-mate Lewis Hamilton.
Vettel’s lap-time in the Ferrari was a 1.27.064s, and it gave the German only his second pole position of the season, as he finally ended Leclerc’s qualifying dominance, as the Monegasque was 0.189s adrift, as the two Mercedes drivers were less than a tenth adrift.
Story of the session
As the light went green for qualifying, the two Ferrari’s were first out, with McLaren’s Sainz closely followed. Before the first timed lap could come up, Kubica was already in the wall down the pit-straight. This brought the first red flag out of this qualifying session, and it was now an uphill challenge for the struggling team to get the car ready for the race.
As the session resumed, the midfield runners were first to get in a banker lap, as Raikkonen was first to set a time with a 1.31.331s, but was beaten by his team-mate by more than half a second, as the two Toro Rosso’s quickly moved to the top of the order. However, just as those laps were set, another red flag was out after Magnussen went into the wall at the final corner – however, the Dane eventually got going despite the impact, and amazingly made it back to the pits.
As the teams prepared for the second restart of Q1, Hulkenberg led a gang of cars – including both Mercedes and Ferrari’s – as they were all keen to get in a clean lap after the disruptions.
As the top runners crossed the line for their first runs, Leclerc set the standard with a 1.28.405s, with Verstappen 0.3s adrift, meanwhile the two Mercedes cars were only sixth and seventh – but it looked to be conservative laps for the two Mercedes, who are expected to capitalize from their strong-showing on Friday.
The Mercedes went for a second flying lap on scrub tyres, as Hamilton went second and Bottas fourth, as Leclerc still remained 0.3s clear of the field.
As Q1 came to an end, Ricciardo, Perez, Russell, Magnussen and Kubica all faced elimination.
With the light going green on Q2 at Suzuka, Charles Leclerc — the pacesetter during Q1 — was first to take to circuit. As the two Ferrari’s set their first laps, Vettel went fastest with a 1.28.174, which was 0.005s clear of his team-mate, however Hamilton smashed the 1-minute-27 barrier with a 1.27.826s.
As Q2 came to an end, Giovinazzi, Stroll, Raikkonen, Kvyat and Hulkenberg faced elimination – as a ‘major problem’ barred Hulkenberg from going for a second run in Q2, which left the German just P15, which ended a misery qualifying for Renault after Ricciardo’s Q1 exit.
As the first runs came in for Q3, Ferrari ran an absolute surprise, as Vettel beat Leclerc with a 1.27.212, with Mercedes’ fastest driver Bottas 0.484s adrift of the Ferrari benchmark. Hamilton was only fourth fastest after the first run, and was some six tenths adrift of Vettel’s provisional pole time. Down at Red Bull, there was just a tenth or so between Verstappen and Albon, however didn’t look to have the machinery to take the fight to the mighty Ferrari’s.
During their final runs, Vettel extended his advantage with a 1.27.064s, with Leclerc 0.189s adrift. Meanwhile, Bottas out-qualified Hamilton for third place, and Verstappen and Albon set identical lap-times.