Nico Rosberg beat title rival Lewis Hamilton by the tiny margin of 0.013s to secure pole position for the Japanese Grand Prix. Third and fourth places were secured by Ferrari, with Kimi Raikkonen ahead of Sebastian Vettel, while Red Bull Racing qualified just behind with Max Verstappen fifth ahead of Daniel Ricciardo. Vettel though will drop to seventh on the grid due to a three-place penalty incurred last weekend in Malaysia.
Rosberg set the early pace in Q1, setting a time of 1:31.858. That was good enough to eclipse Hamilton by 0.360s. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen followed, with team-mate Daniel Ricciardo fourth. The quartet set their times on medium tyres.
The rest of the field opted for soft compound Pirellis and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, with a time of 1:31.659, quickly settled into P1 ahead of team-mate Kimi Raikkonen.
It meant that while the Mercedes drivers were secure enough in their times to remain in the garage as the session wound down, Verstappen and Ricciardo went out on soft tyres, just in case.
However, as the times around them did not decrease significantly neither required improvement and they abandoned their final runs.
Vettel, then, topped the session ahead of Raikkonen, Rosberg and Hamilton. Bottas took P5 ahead of Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg, while Romain Grosjean was seventh. Verstappen took eighth ahead of Ricciardo and tenth place went to Felipe Massa.
At the rear of the field, McLaren’s Jenson Button was eliminated in P17 ahead of Renault’s Kevin Magnussen, the Sauber’s of Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr and the Manors of Esteban Ocon and Pascal Wehrlein.
As has become their trademark, the Mercedes duo were immediately out on track when the lights went green to signal the start of Q2.
The pair were evenly matched through the first sector, with Rosberg only four hundredths of a second quicker than Hamilton. The German took a four tenths of a second advantage through sector two, however, and he hgeld that until the end of the lap, finishing 0.415 ahead of his team-mate.
Vettel was third for Ferrari, half a second down on Rosberg, while Raikkonen was fourth ahead of Verstappen and Ricciardo.
In the drop zone ahead of the final runs were Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz in P11, followed by McLaren’s Fernando Alonso, Daniil Kvyat in the second Toro Rosso, Renault’s Jolyon Palmer and the Williams duo of Valtteri Bottas and Massa.
None would make it through to Q3, with Bottas climbing to 11th ahead of Massa, Kvyat, Sainz, Alonso and Palmer.
It was the Haas team the made the biggest impression with Esteban Gutierrez making it into Q3 in seventh place with a time of 1:32.155 , two hundredths of a second ahead of eighth-placed team-mate Grosjean. The final two Q3 berths went to the Force Indias of Hulkenberg and Perez.
In Q3 for the first time stated a forceful case for pole position. His opening run yielded a time of 1:30.758 and that netted him provisional pole with 0.195 in hand over Rosberg. The battle for the places immediately behind was equally intense with just five hundredths of a second separating third-placed Raikkonen from Ricciardo in sixth place. Sandwiched between them were Vettel in fourth and Verstappen in fifth.
It was the final sector that made the difference for Rosberg on the final run. After losing out in S1, the German was marginally quicker than his team-mate in the middle sector and in the final sector, and secured his 30th career pole with just 13 thousandths of a second in hand over his close title rival.
The fight for P3 and P4, meanwhile, went Ferrari’s way with the Scuderia stretching away slightly from Red Bull on the final runs. Raikkonen finished as the only man outside of the Mercedes duo to dip below 1m31s. Vettel qualified fourth ahead of Verstappen and Ricciardo. This time there were almost three tenths of a second between P3 and P6. Vettel though will drop back to P7 once his penalty is applied.
Behind the Red Bulls, Perez qualified seventh for Force India, with Grosjean eighth for Haas. The final two spots in Q3 were filled by Hulkenberg and Gutierrez.
2016 Japanese Grand Prix – Qualifying
1 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:31.858 1:30.714 1:30.647
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:32.218 1:31.129 1:30.660
3 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1:31.674 1:31.406 1:30.949
4 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:31.659 1:31.227 1:31.028
5 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing 1:32.487 1:31.489 1:31.178
6 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing 1:32.538 1:31.719 1:31.240
7 Sergio Perez Force India 1:32.682 1:32.237 1:31.961
8 Romain Grosjean Haas 1:32.458 1:32.176 1:31.961
9 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:32.448 1:32.200 1:32.142
10 Esteban Gutierrez Haas 1:32.620 1:32.155 1:32.547
11 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:32.383 1:32.315
12 Felipe Massa Williams 1:32.562 1:32.380
13 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1:32.645 1:32.623
14 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso 1:32.789 1:32.685
15 Fernando Alonso McLaren 1:32.819 1:32.689
16 Jolyon Palmer Renault 1:32.796 1:32.807
17 Jenson Button McLaren 1:32.851
18 Kevin Magnussen Renault 1:33.023
19 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1:33.222
20 Felipe Nasr Sauber 1:33.332
21 Esteban Ocon Manor 1:33.353
22 Pascal Wehrlein Manor 1:33.561