28 Sep 2020 11:50 AM +00:00

Japanese Grand Prix 2017: Hamilton smashes lap record for pole in Japan

After crashes in FP3 for both Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen, the Finns would both get five place grid penalties for changing their gearboxes, putting them seemingly out of contention for pole and leaving the battle to the two championship rivals. Lewis Hamilton may have the form, but Sebastian Vettel hasn't had a clean weekend since the Belgian Grand Prix in August. Who would take the front spot in qualifying for tomorrow's race?

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Q1: Grosjean crash has consequences for many

Q1 started in the dry, far from the torrential downpour we saw on Friday, with only some oil needing to be cleared in the opening sector as the drivers prepared to go out on the track.  Pascal Wehrlein was first out, setting a 1:33.288 on the supersoft tyres, with Lewis Hamilton showing his pace early on by setting a 1:29.507 on softs. Valtteri Bottas had a quick first sector, but made a mistake in the Degner corners and slid out. Both Vettel and Hamilton shaved extra tenths off their soft tyre times, cutting it down to a 1:29.3 before the Red Bulls went to the supersoft, with Malaysia race winner Max Verstappen nearly 0.3s faster than Australian teammate Ricciardo.

Towards the bottom of the timesheet, both Saubers were struggling once again. Lance Stroll, Pierre Gasly and Romain Grosjean occupied the last few positions as the session neared its finish, with other familiar names on the edge. Stroll was also unhappy with Sergio Perez, believing he was blocked by the Mexican in the final few corners. 

With less than 90 seconds left in the session, Romain Grosjean pushed too hard in the Dunlop curve. The French driver was already off track a few corners before, and the reduced grip on the paint meant his car spun around and hit the barrier, losing the nosecone and his left-front wheel. The crash brought out the red flag, meaning that no one could set any more laps and the timesheets remained as they were. 

Drivers eliminated in Q1

16 Romain Grosjean (Haas) 1:30.879
17Pierre Gasly (Toro Rosso)1:31.317
18Lance Stroll (Williams)1:31.409
19Marcus Ericsson (Sauber)1:31.597
20Pascal Wehrlein (Sauber)1:31.885

Q2: Hamilton shows incredible pace


Hamilton was once again out early on track, presumably trying to avoid the traffic that builds up around the lap as the session continues. Ferrari split their strategy, with Raikkonen using the soft tyre instead of the supersoft tyre used by both Hamilton and Vettel. As drivers have to start the race on the tyres they set their fastest Q2 time with, Raikkonen was obviously aiming to take a longer opening stint in the race, opening his strategy up. Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas took a similar strategy, the gearbox penalties being considered by both drivers

Lewis Hamilton was well on the way to his 71st pole, the British driver setting a new lap record of 1:27.819 early in the session, with Ferrari's Vettel the closest, but still 0.6s behind. Toro Rosso's Carlos Sainz struggled to better his Q1 time, finding difficulties with setup as he sat in 15th and last place in the middle session. A mid-session lull meant track evolution wasn't as strong as drivers expected, and again the bottom drivers remained the same. The only change was Fernando Alonso pipping his McLaren teammate Stoffel Vandoorne by less than 0.03s. This meant that Fernando was through to Q3 whilst Stoffel dropped out in 11th.

Drivers eliminated in Q2

11 Stoffel Vandoorne (McLaren) 1:29.778
12Nico Hulkenberg (Renault)1:29.879
13Kevin Magnussen (Haas)1:29.972
14Jolyon Palmer (Renault)1:30.022
15Carlos Sainz Jr (Toro Rosso)1:30.413

Q3: Lewis brings it home

The qualifying hour built up to its climax as the fastest ten cars went out for the final 12-minute session. The two Mercedes drivers were first out, Bottas's 1:27.986 soon beaten by Hamilton, again raising the bar to a 1:27.345. The Red Bulls came through, Ricciardo leading Verstappen but both over a second slower than leader Hamilton. Sebastian Vettel lapped at 1:27.797, which was quicker than Hamilton's Q2 time, but still 0.4 off pole. Kimi Raikkonen struggled and aborted his first run after running wide at the tricky second Degner. 

Again, all the drivers were in their garages for the middle part of the session, with the cars being released around 3 minutes from the chequered flag. Alonso took 10th place, but engine penalties mean that the double-world champion starts at the back of the grid. Massa was over a second faster in 9th, with the 2 Force India drivers 7th and 8th. Raikkonen finished a disappointed 6th before his penalty is applied, whilst Daniel Ricciardo kept his advantage over Max Verstappen as the Red Bulls finished 4th and 5th. 

But at the front, it was Lewis Hamilton taking his 71st pole position. The all-time record holder now has the incredibly rare record of having at least one pole position on every track on the current calendar. Teammate Valtteri Bottas qualified second before his penalty, meaning that Sebastian Vettel lines up on the front row when the grid forms on Sunday. 


Q3 Standings

1 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:27.319
2Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes)1:27.651
3Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari)1:27.791
4Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull)1:28.306
5Max Verstappen (Red Bull)1:28.332
6Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari)1:28.498
7Esteban Ocon (Force India)1:29.111
8Sergio Perez (Force India)1:29.260
9Felipe Massa (Williams)1:29.480
10Fernando Alonso (McLaren)1:30.687

So Hamilton and Vettel once again share the front row for tomorrow's race. Can Vettel turn the tide against his rival? Have your say in the comments!