Lewis Hamilton will start from pole position for the 80th time at the Japanese Grand Prix while Sebastian Vettel was only ninth after another strategic error from Ferrari, although a subsequent penalty action promoted him to P8 for tomorrow’s race.
With rain hitting the end of Q2, Ferrari opted to start Q3 on the intermediate tire with both of its cars. It was the only team to do so as the rest of the top ten went out on supersofts and proved to be a big mistake as both Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen had to immediately pit for slicks.
That allowed Hamilton to take pole with a 1m27.760s, with teammate Valtteri Bottas making it a Mercedes one-two after a lap that was 0.3s off Hamilton. The Ferraris were out of sync and started their first timed laps much later than the rest of the top 10, with the rain intensifying. Both drivers then made mistakes at Spoon curve.
Kimi Raikkonen’s error was small and still allowed him to take fourth, half a second behind Max Verstappen, but Vettel went very wide and was over four seconds off the pace in ninth.
Romain Grosjean secured fifth place for Haas ahead of a big performance from Honda at its home race, with Brendon Hartley a career-best sixth on the grid ahead of teammate Pierre Gasly in seventh. Esteban Ocon was set to start from eighth ahead of Vettel, until the Force India driver was given a penalty that promoted Vettel to eighth. Ocon’s teammate Sergio Perez was 10th after a mistake on his one timed run in Q3.
Both Mercedes drivers will also start the race on soft tires compared to supersofts for the rest of the top 10, with Bottas and Hamilton advancing as the fastest two drivers in Q2 despite not using the softest compound available.
Daniel Ricciardo was the big casualty of Q2 as he coasted into the pits at the end of his out lap with a loss of power. Red Bull was working on trying to get the car back out when rain returned and prevented any further times on slick tires, leaving the Australian to climb out of his car early. Ricciardo walked up the pit lane to be weighed and kept his helmet on, screaming an expletive in frustration as he went.
With the rest of the field’s order defined by their first runs in Q2, Charles Leclerc was eliminated in P11 ahead of Kevin Magnussen, Carlos Sainz and Lance Stroll.
Q1 was red-flagged with 10 minutes remaining when Marcus Ericsson crashed at Dunlop. The Swede ran wide toward the end of the corner and as soon as the car was across the curb he was a passenger as he couldn’t slow it in time before hitting the barrier on the outside of the track. The rear was heavily damaged before also pitching the front into the tires, causing a six-minute delay while marshals cleared the Sauber.
That incident came just after Vettel had spun at the hairpin but managed to continue without issue, with the Ferrari driver already having set a time good enough to advance before the red flag. Ericsson dropped out as the slowest car as a result, preventing an all-McLaren back row as Fernando Alonso was 18th, half a second clear of teammate Stoffel Vandoorne.
After crashing in FP3 and then not having a lap on the board due to Renault working into qualifying to repair the car, Nico Hulkenberg ended up eliminated in 16th place, just 0.044s slower than Stroll who made it through. Sergey Sirotkin was the other driver to drop out in 17th, although he was only 0.055s off his teammate.