Japanese GP | Hamilton claims maiden Suzuka pole with track record

Lewis Hamilton clinches his first Suzuka Japanese Grand Prix pole.

A track record in the bag and pole 71 of his career, Lewis Hamilton mastered Suzuka to clinch his first pole at the circuit. His second in the country after topping the Fuji timesheet during his debut season. The lap today, though, a show of strength as he demolished Michael Schumacher’s 11-year record by 1.6 seconds.

The aero-regulation changes brought in for 2017 were designed for speed. Designed to break track records. Designed to test the drivers again as fans and ex-drivers claimed it was too easy.

Today, the flat-out qualifying session saw drivers fly through the esses. Attack 130R like a straight. And break records. Hitting all the targets the regulation changes looked for.

In all, Lewis broke the all-time overall Suzuka track record three-times in qualifying. Initially in Q2, as he topped the timesheet with his race tyres. Before improving in the shoot-out to shatter the lap record set by Michael Schumacher 11 years ago by 1.6 seconds.

Clinching his debut pole at Suzuka at the ninth time of asking, adding to his debut Japanese GP pole at the 2007 race held at the Fuji Speedway.

Hamilton clinched pole in dominant fashion, too, after his narrow victory of Kimi Raikkonen a week ago. With today’s pole clinched by three-tenths to a team-mate with a grid penalty and nearly five-tenths to his title rival.

Q1

Qualifying one saw the end of the day for Romain Grosjean as the Frenchman followed in the morning footsteps of Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen in bringing out the red flags.

Valtteri and Kimi both saw individual incidents see the pair crash and leave their mechanics tinkering away ahead of qualifying. And in the case of Raikkonen, into Q1 when the session went green.

Worse for Raikkonen, his crash also saw the Finn incur a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change – while Bottas already carried one himself into the weekend.

Opening Q1 lap times then saw Bottas head off track again. This time at the Degner’s that claimed Raikkonen’s Ferrari in practice. Though while Valtteri slide through the gravel after his Mercedes became unsettled, the Finn marginally kept his car from the barrier.

Thanks to the off, Valtteri’s initial lap left him 19-seconds down to his pace-setting team-mate. But moved to within seven-thousandths of the Briton as he followed Hamilton in improving their lap times.

As for Raikkonen, when Ferrari eventually was able to send their Finn out on track, Kimi negotiated heavy traffic on his flying lap on route to sixth place – tucking in behind Ricciardo.

Raikkonen was later able to find a clean route to the finish line as he improved his lap time. While in contrast, Lance Stroll found himself out of qualifying in the opening stages after being, in his view, held up by Sergio Perez through the final corners.

The race stewards did agree to investigate the incident, with Lance losing near on three-tenths of a second to his delta.

But that will come as little help to Lance Stroll for now. Having not been able to complete another flying lap when Romain Grosjean crashed out with less time on the clock than a flying lap.

Romain had begun to lose control of the Haas as the turned left into the first part of the esses and instantly felt oversteer. Fighting for control thereafter, through a part of the track that requires control, before eventually running wide and the car spinning at the Dunlop Curve.

Hitting the barrier hard, with the nose detaching and the front left tyre hanging loose.

The red flags did not alone prevent Stroll from attempting another flying lap. Seeing Marcus Ericsson once again outqualify his team-mate at Suzuka, a track where he is yet to be out-qualified by the driver sharing the garage.

Q2

With five drivers out, another five needed to be dropped before the pole position shoot-out at the Japanese Grand Prix. But with the top 10 starting the race on the tyres from this session, Bottas and Raikkonen both took to the track on the soft Pirelli rubber.

With being on the harder compound than those fighting for position, Raikkonen is told a 1:29.079 would be enough to see him through despite the harder rubber.

A time instantly met by the Finn, while Lewis Hamilton punished his tyres by setting a new track record for Suzuka. A lap no driver would get close to, as Vettel crossed the line six-tenths down.

Best of the rest after the initial banker laps saw Esteban Ocon lead Force India in seventh and eighth place. With Massa behind relegating the two Renault’s to the drop zone, to join Fernando Alonso.

Straight into run two, and Esteban Ocon improved further to remain seventh as Hulkenberg failed to find enough time and crossed the chequered flag in 12th place. Potentially beatable by his British team-mate, only for Palmer to suffer a scruffy middle sector that cost Jolyon heavily.

Magnussen and Sainz both also improved in their second runs. But like Hulkenberg and Palmer, not by enough to move up the order.

The only driver to improve and gain positions was Fernando Alonso. Who put his McLaren into the top 10 at the expense of his team-mate. Though Stoffel will start the race in P10 depending on other penalties with Alonso taking another engine change and grid penalty. Yet still not able to take the 4.0 Honda unit hoped for as it remains not ready to race.

Q3

The pole position shoot-out was inbound as the remaining field hit the track to post their provisional times.

Provisional it may be, though, but Hamilton hit the track hard to take P1 with another track record. Pulling a half-second margin over his title-rival Sebastian Vettel as Bottas tucked in three-tenths down.

Worryingly for Red Bull, their hopes coming out of a victorious Malaysia Grand Prix were met with a thud of disappointment as neither driver could compete and sat on the border of a second down to pole.

A margin that Lewis only looked to stretch as he improved his pole lap time.

Shattering the lap record set by Michael Schumacher 11 years ago by 1.6 seconds. Clinching his debut Suzuka pole at the ninth time of asking, adding to his debut Japanese GP pole at the 2007 race held at the Fuji Speedway.

Bottas, unfortunately, will fall down the order from second place thanks to his gearbox change penalty. But Valtteri can take comfort in getting to within half a second of his team-mate for the first time in qualifying since the summer break.

Bottas’ penalty means title-rivals Lewis and Sebastian will start alongside each other on the front row for tomorrow’s race. Leading a Red Bull second row, who out-qualified Kimi Raikkonen – meaning Ferrari’s Finn will start from the back of the top 10.

Pos. Driver Team Engine Time Gap
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes Mercedes 1’27.319
2 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes Mercedes 1’27.651 0.332
3 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari Ferrari 1’27.791 0.472
4 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull TAG 1’28.306 0.987
5 Max Verstappen Red Bull TAG 1’28.332 1.013
6 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari Ferrari 1’28.498 1.179
7 Esteban Ocon Force India Mercedes 1’29.111 1.792
8 Sergio Perez Force India Mercedes 1’29.260 1.941
9 Felipe Massa Williams Mercedes 1’29.480 2.161
10 Fernando Alonso McLaren Honda 1’30.687 3.368
11 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren Honda 1’29.778 2.459
12 Nico Hulkenberg Renault Renault 1’29.879 2.56
13 Kevin Magnussen Haas Ferrari 1’29.972 2.653
14 Jolyon Palmer Renault Renault 1’30.022 2.703
15 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso Renault 1’30.413 3.094
16 Romain Grosjean Haas Ferrari 1’30.849 3.53
17 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso Renault 1’31.317 3.998
18 Lance Stroll Williams Mercedes 1’31.409 4.09
19 Marcus Ericsson Sauber Ferrari 1’31.597 4.278
20 Pascal Wehrlein Sauber Ferrari 1’31.885 4.566

 

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