Nico Rosberg will start Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix from pole position, ahead of team-mate Lewis Hamilton.
Both Rosberg and Hamilton were preparing for their final timed laps in Suzuka when Daniil Kvyat suffered a huge shunt in his Red Bull.
Mercifully, the Russian reported over the team radio that he was “okay”, but the session was immediately red flagged, and with less than one minute remaining, did not restart.
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Valtteri Bottas will therefore start third for Williams with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, winner last time out in Singapore, fourth on the grid.
The top 10 drivers were set to start their second runs at a dry Suzuka when Kvyat lost control of his Red Bull after clipping the grass at high speed.
He careered backwards into the barrier before his car launched into the air, completed a 360 degree spin, and landed upright. The left-hand side of his Red Bull was completely destroyed with both wheels missing from his car.
Formula One is back in Japan for the first time after Jules Bianchi’s fatal crash in last year’s race. But fortunately Kvyat was able to leave his Red Bull unaided after his high-speed impact with the barriers.
Heading into the weekend much had been made of the lacklustre display delivered by Mercedes in Singapore and whether they would be able to bounce back.
Their answer was an emphatic one. They topped every practice and qualifying session on Saturday before Rosberg narrowly edged out Hamilton for pole.
ROSBERG: “It’s a good comeback for the team after Singapore. I nailed my laps and am in a great position tomorrow” pic.twitter.com/lvA4Xrpn04
— Formula 1 (@F1) September 26, 2015
His best lap of one minute and 32.584 seconds was less than one tenth faster than his team-mate, who made two errors on his first and only run in the top-10 shootout.
It marked Rosberg’s second pole of the year, his last coming at May’s Spanish Grand Prix. Vettel, now 49 points adrift of Hamilton after winning in Singapore, was seven tenths down on the Mercedes pair in fourth.
Felipe Massa was fifth for Williams with Kimi Raikkonen to start from sixth.
Jenson Button has never qualified outside the top 10 in Japan – a grand prix he considers as his second home given his wife Jessica hails from these parts and his association with Honda – but the Briton, whose Formula One future remains shrouded in mystery, was knocked out at the first stage.
The 2009 world champion had been on course to sneak into the second phase of qualifying, but his final timed run was scuppered by Max Verstappen’s spin ahead of him. Button had to slow down under the subsequent yellow flags and qualified only 16th.
“There was a yellow flag in the middle sector so obviously I had to lift and without that I probably would have got through,” Button explained.
“On my first run I wasn’t told what engine mode to be in – every time before our timed lap we’re told before we start – and I wasn’t told. So I went to the wrong setting and it emptied the pack after half a lap.
“The car didn’t feel too bad to drive. But you need to get everything out of it, you can’t make a single mistake.”
Button’s similarly beleaguered McLaren team-mate Fernando Alonso crossed the line in 14th.
“I cannot do any more than this,” he said over the team radio.
The Japanese-supporting Honda fans, who became accustomed to McLaren-Honda’s dominance in the 1980s will have to make do with hoping Alonso and Button can progress from the lower echelons of the grid – and not for the first time this season.
For McLaren and Honda it never rains but it pours.
The team will be hoping that rain, forecast to arrive on Sunday morning in Suzuka, outstays its welcome and stays for the race. It is their best chance of securing points in Honda’s backyard.
Daniel Ricciardo was seventh for Red Bull, Romain Grosjean eighth in his Lotus, Force India’s Sergio Perez ninth with Kvyat to start in 10th position.
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