Sebastian Vettel took his second pole position of the season with an excellent performance in qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix as Ferrari locked out the front row on Sunday morning.
The German had already stated on Friday that he felt Ferrari had plenty of time to find having been off Mercedes’ pace in practice, and duly delivered with an impressive showing in Q3. Vettel took provisional pole with a strong first lap and lowered the benchmark to take pole on a 1m27.064s.
Charles Leclerc had taken the past four pole positions in a row but Vettel made it five for Ferrari with his first pole since Canada, with his younger team-mate ending up a little under 0.2s adrift in second place.
Valtteri Bottas will start from third after a strong performance of his own, ending up 0.04s off Leclerc and just 0.009s ahead of team-mate Lewis Hamilton as the top four drivers were all covered by 0.238s.
If that seemed close, the two Red Bulls were inseparable as Max Verstappen and Alexander Albon set identical lap times. Verstappen will line up fifth ahead of Albon by virtue of setting the 1m27.851s first, although the pair will be disappointed by the large gap to pole position at Honda’s home race.
McLaren continued its strong season by locking out the fourth row once again — Carlos Sainz within half a second of the Red Bulls in seventh — while Pierre Gasly and Romain Grosjean rounded out the top 10 as qualifying ended at 11:15 due to red flags, less than three hours before the scheduled race start time at 2:10 p.m.
Nico Hulkenberg was the first confirmed driver knocked out in Q2 when he suffered a hydraulic pressure loss, needing to slowly return to the pits and leaving Renault with work to do to resolve the issue ahead of the race. Hulkenberg was slowest of those taking part as a result, with Daniil Kvyat 0.8s off his Toro Rosso teammate as he ended up 14th.
Antonio Giovinazzi missed out on a spot in Q3 by just 0.1s as the two Alfa Romeos were split by Lance Stroll who delivered a solid performance to qualify 12th.
With a tight turnaround ahead of the race the session was delayed almost instantly when Robert Kubica crashed exiting the final corner before starting his first timed lap. With a strong tailwind through the corner, Kubica simply ran out of road and as soon as he had two wheels on the grass he was a passenger. The left-hand side of the Williams was heavily damaged against the tire barrier and the session was red flagged.
There was an eight-minute delay while the car was recovered for Williams to start trying to repair it in time for the race, but soon after the restart Kevin Magnussen crashed at the same spot, swapping ends mid-corner and hitting the barrier backwards. Magnussen did well to keep the engine running and limp back to the pits, but there was still another seven-minute delay for barrier repairs.
Those crashes saw both cars eliminated, although Haas should be able to repair Magnussen’s car ahead of the race. Sergio Perez was a surprise casualty of Q1 as he dropped out in 17th, just 0.02s ahead of George Russell and some 0.8s slower than teammate Stroll. Daniel Ricciardo was the other car to drop out as Renault’s day started poorly, failing to advance in 16th place.