Japanese Grand Prix pole for Rosberg after late Kvyat crash brought out the red flags

Pole for the 2015 Japanese Grand Prix secured by Nico Rosberg.

High speed straights and high speed corners linked together over 5.807 kilometres of track, and the man who linked those kilometres together the best in qualifying was Nico Rosberg, as he captured pole for tomorrow’s Japanese Grand Prix. Kvyat left it late to head out onto the track in Q3, but a huge crash on the approach to the hairpin ended his session.

Mercedes had been off the top of a timesheet since FP1 in Singapore before FP3 came around earlier today when Rosberg beat the field to top the time sheet. Yesterday’s running of course was incomparable after rain washed out the running at Suzuka, allowing Carlos Sainz and Kvyat to top the practice sessions.

Carlos Sainz was also amongst the first runners in qualifying after following his team-mate out of the pits and onto the time sheet, along with Grosjean who split the pair’s early times.

Kvyat and Maldonado also soon moved between the Toro Rosso pair with Verstappen continuing to hold position as more times hit the board. However his first timed lap was only good enough to see him sit 1.8 seconds off of Hamilton when the championship leader posted his first time, which pushed Nico Rosberg down from first by three tenths.

By the time most had set a lap time in Q1 and returned to their garages to judge whether they need to run again or not, Ferrari and Button were only just posting their banker lap times. For the Italian outfit, this was no issue as they rocked straight up into the top five with both drivers on the harder compound tyres. But for Button, a man who had never qualified outside the top 10 at Suzuka, he was already on the medium tyres but was not able to post a good lap time and sat over two seconds off of Hamilton.

With three minutes to go, Ferrari and Williams were still sitting in their garages while the session leaders returned to action on the hard compound tyres. As for the other runners, they were all running the medium compound tyres and finding improvements with Verstappen moving himself inside the top 10. But Hamilton and Rosberg had no fears of being eliminated with a 1.3 seconds gap back to third place Raikkonen.

Luckily for Massa, Alonso and the Force India drivers, they were able to get into Q2 without having to fear being eliminated despite behind pushed to the border of the drop zone as Max Verstappen stopped out on track after a full loss of power, bringing out the yellow flags.

With yellow flags causing drivers to slow as Verstappen climbed out of his Toro Rosso, Button, Ericsson and co. were unable to improve despite being on good laps right up until the flags. For Ericsson however, his first run ended poorly when he span the car at Spoon after touching the astro turf on entrance. As for Rossi in the Manor, he was yet to set a time after being caught up in Ericsson’s yellow flag area after he span.

Jenson found himself eliminated from qualifying in Q1 at Suzuka for the first time after his first timed lap was not good enough to see him through. Annoyingly for him, he felt he could have beat the drop should the yellow’s not have come out. But he was more annoyed that he was in the wrong engine mode for his first flyer and emptied the power store during the first half of the lap.

For Q2, Mercedes sent both drivers out on their first runs with the option compound tyres which they said over team radio could be race tyres. Hamilton’s time on this set of tyres however was only enough to create a six tenths gap between himself in second and the leading non-Mercedes challenger of Raikkonen in third.

Once again in the opening runs Vettel was off the pace of the Mercedes’. But this time around his opening lap was only good enough for sixth, half a second slower than his team-mate and with a smaller gap to Ricciardo in seventh, than to Bottas in fifth.

As Vettel returned to his garage, Hulkenberg was back out on track to try and move into the top 10, knowing he will have a three place grid drop as a penalty for his crash with Massa back at the Singapore Grand Prix. However despite improving on his earlier time to move into eight place, the track gifted the other runners more time to push the German out of the top 10 as Perez, Kvyat and Grosjean moved ahead of the Hulk.

Grosjean’s time was only one tenth better than Hulkenberg’s after crossing the finish line as the chequered flag waved. But even he could have been eliminated at this stage as Sainz appeared to be carrying out a strong lap until loosing time late on to finish in 12th after failing to improve meaning he joined his team-mate out of qualifying after Verstappen was unable to run due to ending Q1 at the hairpin.

When Q3 engaged, it was only a matter of seconds before the first cars were leaving their garages as Rosberg rolled out onto the track, closely followed by Ricciardo and Hamilton.

For the three of them, Hamilton had the advantage in the first sector as he beat the pairs opening sectors but with a minimal difference to Rosberg. By sector two, the momentum had swung and now Rosberg was up on Hamilton but still the difference was small with just 4 hundredths of a second splitting their sectors. Then in the final sector, Hamilton once again was off Rosberg’s pace by 5 hundredths of a second to cross the line seven hundredths down.

But for Ricciardo, his provisional lap was only good enough to be seventh fastest with nine-tenths separating him and Rosberg. In that gap slotted both Williams and Ferrari’s as Bottas took provisional third with two tenths between himself and Vettel in fourth. Slender margins were also splitting Massa and Raikkonen with just one hundredth the difference.

With eight drivers setting provisional lap times, Kvyat and Perez were leaving it all on one do-or-die lap time. As for the drivers who hit the time sheet early on, Bottas led the runners for their final laps with Rosberg once again in front of Hamilton.

But before the fight for pole could see one more flying lap apiece. Kvyat was pushing hard for his first Q3 time but drifted out to the left and onto the grass as he looked to the right on exit of Degner Two. With the wheels on the grass, the car fishtailed and Kvyat lost control and began a direct course into the barrier. As the rear smashed into the wall, the car span around with the wheels digging into the gravel, sending the car into an airborne spin and full barrel roll upon landing. Once the Red Bull came to a rest, the front & rear wing and full left hand side of the car were completely destroyed, with one wheel resting on the side of the track after becoming detached.

With the severity of Kvyat’s crash, the red flags were brought out to neutralise the session but with little time remaining the session was not restarted and no drivers could improve like in Q1 when Verstappen stopped on the other side of the hairpin.

In turn, with no improvements Rosberg captured pole position ahead of Hamilton with just hundredths of a second separating the pair.

Bottas also finished the day in third place, with the order following behind Ferrari, Williams, Ferrari, Red Bull as Massa nudged Raikkonen for fifth.

Position Driver Best lap
1 Rosberg Q3: 1:32.584
2 Hamilton 1:32.660
3 Bottas 1:33.024
4 Vettel 1:33.245
5 Massa 1:33.337
6 Raikkonen 1:33.347
7 Ricciardo 1:33.497
8 Grosjean 1:33.967
9 Perez 1:34.174
10 Kvyat 1:34.201
11 Hulkenberg Q2: 1:34.390
12 Sainz 1:34.453
13 Maldonado 1:34.497
14 Alonso 1:34.785
15 Verstappen No time set
16 Button Q1: 1:35.664
17 Ericsson 1:35.673
18 Nasr 1:35.760
19 Stevens 1:38.783
20 Rossi 1:47.114