It’s taken him ten years but finally Lewis Hamilton will start a Japanese Grand Prix on pole position as he set a track record during qualifying. Saturday proved to be an eventful day with a couple of crashes in final practice and grid-penalties galore.
Valtteri Bottas certainly had an eventful time in final practice on Saturday. He crashed his Mercedes at the Spoon Curve causing him to miss half the session, yet still managed to record the fastest time 0.014 seconds ahead of team-mate Lewis Hamilton. Hamilton would most likely have set the fastest time but was red-flagged due to the Bottas incident.
Both the Mercedes set their fastest time using the soft tyre not the faster super-soft, all good news considering they were 0.3 seconds faster than Sebastian Vettel who was using the super-soft tyres. Max Verstappen was fourth fastest ahead of Daniel Ricciardo in fifth.
Bottas wasn’t the only one to crash because Kimi Raikkonen did the same crashing at Degner Two ending up in the gravel trap and then the tyre wall. Earlier in the session, Vettel also had problems at Degner Two but just managed to rescue his Ferrari after it had tripped on the kerb.
For the tenth time, this season Lewis Hamilton will be on pole after finishing 0.332 seconds ahead of Valtteri Bottas. It won’t be a 1-2 on the grid though as Bottas has a five-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race, one of a few penalties as you’ll soon read about.
Instead, Hamilton will have rival Sebastian Vettel alongside him on the grid even though he finished 0.472 seconds behind the Championship leader after running wide at Esses as he tried to close the gap on the Mercedes. Kimi Raikkonen finished fourth but will also drop down the grid so despite finishing fifth and sixth the Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen will move up to third and fourth. Ricciardo finished ahead of his team-mate for the first time in seven races.
The Force Indias of Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez finished sixth and seventh followed by Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso.
There are several grid penalties in place for Sunday’s race. Five place penalties have been given to Valtteri Bottas for a changed gearbox and to Kimi Raikkonen for the same reason after his gearbox was changed after that crash in final practice.
McLaren have had their usual problems this weekend and Fernando Alonso has been given a 35-place grid penalty, not quite what Honda wanted at their home Grand Prix. Hydraulic problems were discovered in the power-unit on Friday leading to a new engine having to be fitted in Alonso’s car and of course they have used up double the permitted number of engine parts. The new engine isn’t even an upgrade as that’s not ready yet.
He’ll have company at the back of the grid as the Renault of Jolyon Palmer has been given a 20-place grid penalty after having its fifth internal combustion engine and sixth turbo and MGU-H. That means it’s not going to be the greatest of send-offs for Palmer who will be leaving Renault after this race. He’ll be replaced by Carlos Sainz who is already signed up for next year. Daniil Kyat will take over from Sainz at Toro Rosso. Sainz is also at the back of the grid due to engine part replacements.
Speaking after qualifying, Hamilton, who set a new track record during qualifying, said the Ferrari’s would be “rapid as they always are – but I plan to keep them behind.” That looks a possibility with Mercedes seeming to have the edge on Saturday. I’ll be back with a blog later in the month, till then enjoy your racing.