Vettel beats Leclerc to take Suzuka Pole

Sebastian Vettel

Sebastian Vettel bested Charles Leclerc to take Pole Position for the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka, to make it five poles in-a-row for the Prancing Horse.

In the opening runs Vettel produced a monstrous times, as the German was fastest in all three sectors, to lead team-mate Leclerc after the opening runs. Valtteri Bottas also led Lewis Hamilton as the pair turned the tables on their respective team-mates.

Max Verstappen ran fifth, seven tenths adrift and only one tenth clear of the ever-improving Alex Albon.

On the second runs, Leclerc narrowly missed out on taking provisional pole, only for Vettel to go even quicker to take a brilliant Pole – continuing the streak of German drivers taking Pole Position in Sunday morning Qualifying sessions’

The German also broke the Monegasque’s four race streak of Pole Position’s, stretching back to August’s Belgian Grand Prix.

Bottas edged Hamilton to complete the top three as both Aston Martin Red Bull Racing cars produced the exact same lap-time to lock-out the third row.

Verstappen is set to start the race ahead due to having the fortune of setting the time first.

Carlos Sainz Jr. was best of the rest for McLaren, with Lando Norris completing the fourth row in eighth for the Woking squad.

Pierre Gasly and Romain Grosjean rounded out the top ten, with the French pair locking out the fifth row – with Gasly ahead of Grosjean.

Hamilton laid down a Qualifying marker in the opening Qualifying two runs, moving three tenths clear of the Ferrari pair, with Vettel 0.005s clear of his younger team-mate, as Bottas rounded out the top four.

Behind them Verstappen complained of a lack of power, but duly went fifth fastest, within touching distance of the top four to save Honda’s blushes somewhat on home-soil, ahead of Albon.

In the second runs Bottas reinforced his practice form to go fastest from Hamilton, with Albon a surprise third for Red Bull.

Both McLaren’s highlighted their strong form to make the final part of qualifying, ahead of Suzuka-specialist Gasly who made it a trio of Honda-powered cars in the top ten. Romain Grosjean was the final top ten incumbent to raise Haas’ spirits following Magnussen’s shunt.

Antonio Giovinazzi then continued his Qualifying renaissance to go eleventh and beat his team-mate Kimi Räikkönen for the third weekend on the bounce, with Lance Stroll shining in twelfth for SportPesa Racing Point F1 Team. Räikkönen himself was thirteenth as Alfa Romeo Racing continued their middling recent form.

Daniil Kvyat was a disappointing fourteenth for the Honda-powered Toro Rosso team as he wa thoroughly bested by team-mate Gasly. He was ahead of only Nico Hülkenberg who suffered a suspected severe hydraulic issue to leave him fifteenth. This compounded Renault‘s awful session as they were resigned to a row-eight lock out.

The opening session began with numerous cars fitting Pirelli’s hardest rubber for the opening runs with Scuderia Ferrari in-particular choosing to do so.

However, these early runs were scuppered due to Robert Kubica crashing into the wall at the final corner in a crash very reminiscent of Timo Glock’s incident at this very corner ten years ago.

The incident itself leaves the Pole a doubt to start the race due to the short turn-around between the rescheduled Qualifying session and the race.

Shortly after Kevin Magnussen brought out the sessions second red flag once again at the final corner as he spun out, hampering the runs of many of the main contenders and completing the back-row of the grid.

However, the Dane managed to limp back to the pits in spite of the VF-19‘s ailments.

When the opening runs finally took place Mercedes found themselves under pressure as they were a second adrift of the leading Leclerc.

The Silver Arrows soon bounced back as they continued running to improve their situation – promoting Hamilton to second and Bottas to fourth.

Daniel Ricciardo‘s recent Qualifying woes continued as he was eliminated in the opening segment of qualifying due to a poor sector one which simply left the Australian with too much to do; losing four tenths compared to his team-mate in that sector alone.

He was joined by Sergio Pérez who decided to stay out on one set of tyres for the whole session and duly paid the price due to a strong track evolution. George Russell rounded out the Qualifying one exodus, completing the ninth row of the grid with a credible showing for ROKit Williams Racing.


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