Japanese Grand Prix: Nico Rosberg on pole as Daniil Kvyat crashes out

Mercedes' form was unwelcome for rivals Ferrari and Red Bull, who had upstaged them so dramatically under the lights of Marina Bay

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The Independent Online

There was good news and not so good news for Lewis Hamilton ahead of today’s Japanese Grand Prix. Mercedes regained their mojo yesterday after the glitch last weekend in Singapore, but for only the second time this year it was his team-mate Nico Rosberg who took pole position.

Rosberg headed Hamilton by 0.297sec in practice yesterday morning, then they traded fastest times during qualifying. Hamilton was 0.171sec faster in the first session, then it was Rosberg by 0.157sec in the second. The German was 0.076sec quicker on the first of their two runs in the final session, when Daniil Kvyat inadvertently settled the issue by crashing his Red Bull very heavily, which brought out the red flag.

The Russian, who had been fastest in the wet on Friday afternoon, got out of shape exiting Turn 10, a fast right-hander taken at more than 250kmh. His car twitched then speared off the road before striking the outer wall, which ripped off the two left-hand wheels. It rolled once but came to rest the right way up, and he was able to extract himself without assistance. “It was the biggest shunt of my career,” he admitted.

Nobody got the chance to improve, so the front of the grid was settled. It was Rosberg’s first pole since Spain in May.

“I’m very happy, it’s been a good comeback for the team after such a difficult weekend in Singapore,” he said. “We are back to our usual strength, and I’m very thankful for that. I nailed my laps today, and at times I had the perfect car, so it was great to drive that here. Awesome.”

Hamilton admitted that he had lost a bit of time locking up his right front wheel going into the hairpin and  running wide, then getting the final corner a little bit wrong too on his first run.

“Nico is driving pretty well this weekend,” he said, “but I thought I was also driving well on that last lap… But I’m glad Dany is okay.”

Like Rosberg, he was clearly relieved that his Silver Arrow was taking flight again after the scare they had last weekend. “The guys here have worked incredibly hard and it’s great to be back up here,” he added. “Definitely the car feels like normal this weekend.”

Mercedes' form was unwelcome for rivals Ferrari and Red Bull, who had upstaged them so dramatically under the lights of Marina Bay. But it was not a real surprise. Everyone guessed that normal service would be resumed here, though a few clung to the hope that Ferrari and Red Bull had made some big progress.

Instead, it was the much-loved Williams team that sprung the surprise, as Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa sandwiched Sebastian Vettel’s third-placed Ferrari, leaving his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen sixth ahead of Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, who had been Vettel’s shadow last Sunday evening. Bottas was 0.440s adrift, Vettel 0.661s, Ricciardo 0.913s. Nothing in real life, a chasm in F1.

“Today, Ferrari get our tyres from Singapore,” Mercedes’ chairman Niki Lauda chuckled, very much tongue-in-cheek.

It was an unhappy day for Jenson Button on Honda’s home ground; over the radio he blamed procedural errors by his team for his failure to get into the second qualifying session. Speculation still continues about his future after an announcement of his retirement, which many had expected, failed to materialise over the weekend. Team insiders suggest that he  may still be arguing with team  boss Ron Dennis over remuneration for 2016.

Meanwhile the beleaguered Lotus team, for whom Romain Grosjean qualified eighth, received a long overdue lifeline at close of business on Friday evening. They had already been embarrassed by late arrival of their freight on Thursday, and by non-payment of the £30,000 fee for a hospitality unit at the circuit, and faced going into administration next week. But Renault agreed to settle a £1.8m outstanding PAYE debt to HMRC in London’s High Court on Monday, as a prelude to an agreement to buy a 70 per cent shareholding in the team they sold to Lotus in 2009. That will enable Renault to come back as a manufacturer, following their disappointment over the  degree of publicity they received as Red Bull’s supplier during that team’s eight world championship titles between 2010 and 2013.