Suzuka - Nico Rosberg stormed to pole in Saturday's qualifying for the
Japanese Grand Prix, edging out Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton after
Red Bull's Daniil Kvyat survived a hair-raising smash.
champion Hamilton, who leads the championship standings by 41 points
from Rosberg, will start alongside the German at Suzuka on Sunday, while
Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel qualified for the second row.
"Happy birthday, mum!" Rosberg said in German after securing only his second pole of the year.
a birthday present for you. At times today I had the perfect car and I
pretty much nailed my laps. Obviously it's a great comeback for the team
Finland's Valtteri Bottas steered his Williams
to third on the grid ahead of Vettel - who won last weekend's night
race to boost his outside title hopes - with team-mate Felipe Massa and
Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari on the third row.
Rosberg also topped
the timesheets in a frantic final practice session on Saturday morning
after heavy rain effectively washed out Friday's practice.
memories of Frenchman Jules Bianchi's fatal crash at Suzuka last year
raw this weekend, Kvyat reminded everyone of Formula One's inherent
risks when he crashed spectacularly on approach to the hairpin.
flipping over and totalling his car, the Russian was able to climb out
of the mangled wreckage unhurt as red flags brought a premature end to
"I'm okay, and you?" Kvyat chirped over the radio when
asked if he had sustained any injuries. He will start the race from the
pitlane after his 180kph shunt.
There was early drama when Max
Verstappen's Toro Rosso rolled to a halt poking out dangerously across
the track after breaking down with electrical trouble, costing him a
grid demotion of three places.
Dutch teenager trudged back to the pits, yellow flags having bounced out
several drivers, including Jenson Button, who was furious after his
worst ever Japan qualifying result.
"The position we are in, we
can't afford to make any mistakes," the Englishman snapped at McLaren
mechanics, frustrated by an earlier communication mix-up.
Bull's Daniel Ricciardo qualified seventh quickest with Frenchman Romain
Grosjean alongside him on the fourth row for the troubled Lotus team,
whose Formula One future has been plunged into doubt over a cash-flow
A repeat of Hamilton's victory in Japan last year, when he
was also pipped to pole by Rosberg, would put the Briton tantalisingly
close to a third world title with five races left.
car feels like normal this weekend, which is great to see," said
Hamilton after narrowly missing out on his 12th pole of the season. "I
was enjoying the battle with Nico. It was a shame we didn't get to
finish the last lap but I'm glad (Kvyat) is safe."
Vettel, meanwhile, was realistic about Ferrari's chance of inflicting another upset.
I would have like another spot (on the grid) but let's not be too
greedy," said the German, who ended a run of 23 straight qualifying wins
for Mercedes last time out. "We can be reasonably happy.
weather could be a challenge tomorrow," added four-time world champion
Vettel. "I watched the forecast on (Japanese) TV last night but I
couldn't catch a word."
Hamilton suffered his first race-ending
retirement in over a year in last Sunday's race, when the dominant
Mercedes were rocked by a mysterious loss of pace, but normal service
has been resumed in Japan.
He will be chasing an eighth victory of
the season in Japan and bidding to equal boyhood hero Ayrton Senna's
tally of 41 race wins.
Starting grid for the Japanese Grand Prix after qualifying on Saturday:
Nico Rosberg (GER/Mercedes)
Lewis Hamilton (GBR/Mercedes)
Valtteri Bottas (FIN/Williams)
Sebastian Vettel (GER/Ferrari)
Felipe Massa (BRA/Williams)
Kimi Raikkonen (FIN/Ferrari)
Daniel Ricciardo (AUS/Red Bull)
Romain Grosjean (FRA/Lotus)
Sergio Perez (MEX/Force India)
Daniil Kvyat (RUS/Red Bull)
Nico Hulkenberg (GER/Force India)
Carlos Sainz (ESP/Toro Rosso)
Pastor Maldonado (VEN/Lotus)
Fernando Alonso (ESP/McLaren)
Max Verstappen (NED/Toro Rosso)
Jenson Button (GBR/McLaren)
Marcus Ericsson (SWE/Sauber)
Felipe Nasr (BRA/Sauber)
Will Stevens (GBR/Manor Marussia)
Alexander Rossi (USA/Manor Marussia)