Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff says Ferrari “came out of nowhere” to lock out the front row in qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix.
In a qualifying session taking place on Sunday morning at Suzuka ahead of the race later in the same day, Sebastian Vettel beat teammate Charles Leclerc as Ferrari took its fifth straight pole position. The result comes after Mercedes was quickest in both Friday sessions and Ferrari looked a little off the pace, with Wolff admitting he was expected a stronger performance.
“Upset… It should be a good track for us and the Ferraris again from Friday out of nowhere once they package it all together then they are very quick,” Wolff said.
“I think (the upgrade) worked — I think the car is generally well-balanced but we are just lacking on one lap at the moment … I think on race pace we are looking good, but obviously if you are behind then there’s a problem.”
The two Ferrari drivers admit they were surprised to be able to secure front row starts given where they were during Friday practice.
“I think we were quite surprised, to be honest — we didn’t expect that, to have the front row,” Vettel said. “So, very happy. It was unbelievable, the car being so light on fuel and new tires, and we had headwind up the Esses, which is what you want because then the car feels even better. I don’t think I used the brakes other than Turn 2! It was unbelievable. Really enjoyed it, but it’s only part of the job done. Let’s look forward to this afternoon.”
The pole is Vettel’s first since the Canadian Grand Prix as Leclerc has secured the past four, but the Monegasque driver was impressed by his team-mate’s performance.
“Seb did an amazing lap, today he deserves to be on pole,” Vettel said. “I’ve been struggling a bit since the beginning of the weekend, but to be honest I was pretty happy with my lap now in qualy apart from the last sector where I did a few mistakes, so pole was not possible.
“Seb was just too quick, so congratulations to him. Very happy and very surprised to be first and second after the free practices we had. The race is the most important. Hopefully we’ll be able to keep these positions.
“Mercedes are very quick in the race, so it’s not going to be easy, but we’ll try to focus on our job and keep this one-two.