Japanese Grand Prix 2017: What we learned from Qualifying

RealSport takes a look at what we learned from today's qualifying session at Japan's Suzuka circuit, and how the Mercedes juggernaut steamrolls towards the title.

Lewis Hamilton took his 71st career pole position in Japan earlier today, followed closely by his teammate Valtteri Bottas and the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel. His pole today has meant he has started from the best spot on the grid at every track currently on the F1 calendar.

The big story of the day though was the ominous pace that Mercedes were showing at a track they were expected to be dominant, along with more engine penalties to convolute the grid. To break this down, and look at the other main talking points from qualifying, here is what we learned from Saturday in Suzuka.

  1. 1 The king of Saturdays strikes again.

    We saw a real champions performance from Lewis Hamilton today; the British driver had time in his pocket, surely. He will start alongside Sebastian Vettel tomorrow thanks to a Bottas gearbox penalty, which is what people want to see. Hopefully, this brings back memories of the classic Senna-Prost battles of the late 80's. 

    This was Lewis's first pole round Suzuka, and in the post qualifying interviews conducted by Jenson Button, he credited both Jenson and his old rival Nico Rosberg for their previous consistencies round the track and how this year he felt his setup was in a much stronger condition. This pole was also his tenth in just 16 races. 

    Button earlier in the week backed Lewis's title credentials, saying he was unconvinced that Sebastian Vettel will overhaul Hamilton's point advantage. 

    It is also important to remember Bottas is a little off form lately and could have potentially pushed lewis harder on a different day. Hamilton was 0.641 seconds clear of him on his first run but the Finn closed the gap in the final laps. Hamilton lost time locking up at the Hairpin and improved by only 0.026secs on his second run, which could have opened up an opportunity for a more in form Valtteri.

    Hamilton's pole lap was a new track record, beating the previous one set by Michael Schumacher in his Ferrari in 2006 by 1.635secs.

  2. 2 These Penalties really need to change...right?

    Once again penalties had the paddock talking about the future of the sport as five drivers are set to take grid drops in Suzuka, a fact that slightly marred the top ten shootout as fans knew a few key contenders were out of the running. 

    Alonso has received a 35-place grid penalty and is set to start Sunday's race (underway at 6am UK time) from last after McLaren-Honda made more engine component changes. McLaren broke the overnight curfew to perform a complete engine change after discovering a hydraulic leak following Friday practice at Suzuka. This brings Alonso's season total to 140 grid places. 

    Both Bottas and Raikkonen will also be relegated five places for unscheduled gearbox changes. The change on Bottas' Mercedes was made on Friday night but the unit switch on Raikkonen's Ferrari was forced upon the team after the Finn's crash in Practice Three.

    Jolyon Palmer and Carlos Sainz will also receive 20-place grid penalties for engine related component changes. 

    Let us know in the comments what you make of F1's current penalty system. 

  3. 3 Is it time we start giving Stoffel Vandoorne a bit more credit?

    At the start of the season coming into a struggling Mclaren team, Stoffel Vandoorne was not expected to even give Fernando Alonso a whiff of competition. This is a man who has never been beaten by a teammate over the course of a season, excluding the draw he saw out with Lewis in 2007.

     However, as the season is drawing to a close one story that may have slipped under the radar is the performance of Stoffel, who currently sits three points ahead of the Spaniard in the championship. He was once again out-qualified by his far more illustrious teammate today, but he will start ahead of him in ninth thanks to penalties to Alonso and Raikkonen.

     He has seen out a best result of seventh twice this season and has, in the second half of the season, shown his credentials as a future world champion. It remains to be seen whether he can stay ahead of Fernando, and whether his name can be uttered in the same breath regarding talent as the likes of Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz. 

  4. 4 F1 continues its global brand expansion plans

    Formula 1 bosses have revealed this weekend that they are in talks with officials in Vietnam about holding a race in the near future. Earlier this year, former F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone said he could have done a deal with Vietnam but turned the chance down as he felt there were enough races in Asia.

    After Malaysia chose not to renew its F1 deal beyond this season, the push for another race in Asia in the short term is high on F1 bosses' agenda.

    Vietnam is on its list of potential venues, with talks between F1 and officials in the country ongoing regarding a potential race in the capital, Hanoi. Other venues pushing for a return to the calender include Portugal and Turkey. 

  1. Who will win the Japanese GP?

    1. Lewis Hamilton
    2. Valtteri Bottas
    3. Sebastian Vettel
    4. Max Verstappen
    5. Other (Let us know in the comments!)
    14 votes
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Matt Ashman

Biosciences graduate with a massive passion for anything with an engine.