Lewis Hamilton reckons he was on course to snatch pole position from Nico Rosberg before Daniil Kvyat’s dramatic qualifying crash halted qualifying on Saturday.
The session for today’s Japanese Grand Prix came to a premature end after Kvyat lost control of his Red Bull and crashed into the barriers at 120mph. Luckily, he was unhurt.
Hamilton was midway through his final timed lap when he was forced to ease off as the red flags brought an immediate halt to proceedings.
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“I was working on perhaps the best lap I have ever done here, but I never got to finish it,” said Hamilton, who made a small mistake on his first run in yesterday’s top-10 shoot-out.
“I lost a tenth and a half in the last corner on my first lap, but the next lap was pretty quick – it was really fast – by turn six I was already up by a lot.
“There was still a long way to go in the lap, but it doesn’t really matter. It was a positive feeling for me and I know that tomorrow I have good pace.”
Hamilton won last year’s shortened race after Jules Bianchi’s ultimately fatal accident in the wet conditions.
And the weather could play a part today with rain predicted to fall over the Suzuka track.
Rosberg started from pole in Japan last year but Hamilton got the better of his Mercedes team-mate in the torrid conditions.
— MERCEDES AMG F1 (@MercedesAMGF1) September 26, 2015
“Nico would have watched the race from last year and he would have improved on the areas where he was losing time,” Hamilton added.
“There is a big document at the end of the race – whether he wins or I win – which explains why the other one was quicker. If it rains tomorrow he will be faster because he would have learned from those documents but it does make it more of a lottery.”
For Rosberg it was his first pole in over four months in a season which Hamilton has dominated. Indeed, it will be only the second time in 14 grands prix that he will have started ahead of his team-mate when the lights go out.
“I did not have a monkey on my back and I don’t think of it that way,” said Rosberg, who trails his Mercedes team-mate by 41 points in the championship with six races remaining.
“For me, I just want to win this weekend and it is great to be first because that gives me a better chance tomorrow.” Much of the talk heading into this week’s race was around whether Mercedes could bounce back from their off-key display in Singapore.
The answer was an emphatic one as Rosberg and Hamilton locked out the front row, three quarters of a second faster than Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel who won last Sunday.
The German will start from fourth with the Williams of Valtteri Bottas third on the grid.
Rosberg added: “We were confident of a recovery but Singapore was very bad. It is great to see that the car was as dominant as it was before.”
Kvyat will start today’s race from the pit lane after his accident.
The session was red flagged after he lost control of his Red Bull on the exit of turn 10. His car was launched into the air and completed a 360 degree spin before it landed upright.
The left-hand side of his Red Bull was completely destroyed and his team was working through the night to change his chassis so he could take part in the race.
“I am massively sorry for the guys who will have to do quite a job,” said Kvyat, who was given the all-clear to take part in the race after a brief visit to the on-track medical centre.
“The car did not look great so I will be supporting them tonight. I am not as good at building the car as they are but I will stay with them as long as I can because I feel sorry for them.”
Kvyat’s high-speed crash, which brought a premature end to qualifying, registered at 20G.
And his harrowing incident came after Jules Bianchi’s ultimately fatal accident here last year.
Bianchi died in July after he succumbed to the horrific brain injuries he sustained after crashing into a recovery vehicle in the rain-hit race.
Explaining the incident, Kvyat said: “It was a rookie mistake, I put two wheels on the grass and that’s it.
“It was by far the hardest crash I have had. I have never had a crash in my career until now – maybe karting – but I have never rolled the car. Unfortunately, there is a first time for everything.”
Kvyat’s Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, who qualified seventh, added: “It was spectacular and got everyone talking, but it is good he is okay. It is a silly accident but it is easy to do.
“As a driver you try to be greedy and use as much of the track as possible as it is the quickest way to go, but it is sometimes easy to happen – as silly an accident as it is – because you are only using your peripheral vision to see the outside of the track.
“He would have been looking at the apex to the right so he would not have been looking at the grass.”
Daniil Kvyat has described his spectacular crash in qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix as “a rookie mistake”.
On his final run in Q3, Kvyat put two wheels on the grass at Turn 10 – the right-hand kink before the hairpin – and lost control, hitting the barrier on the outside of the track at high-speed and rolling in the gravel trap.
The session was red flagged as a result and didn’t restart, with Kvyat taking full responsibility for the error.
“It was a rookie mistake, I put two wheels on the grass and there was no run off area so it was a quite logical end I think,” Kvyat told Sky Sports.
Asked how bad the damage is to his car, Kvyat replied: “It looks really bad I must say.
“I’m sorry for the guys – it has been a tough couple of weeks already and with this crash it’s extra work for the guys so I’m sorry about that. We’re starting something like P10 and I don’t know what will happen now. No idea.”
— WTF1 (@wtf1couk) September 26, 2015
Jenson Button was left frustrated by a McLaren mistake during qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix which he says cost him a place in Q2.
At the end of his first run in Q1, Button complained over team radio that he hadn’t received certain information from the team, to which he received an apologetic reply. On his final run Button had to back off due to yellow flags for Max Verstappen’s stricken Toro Rosso, knocking him out in the first part of the session while team-mate Fernando Alonso progressed.
Explaining his complaint after qualifying, Button says the team forgot to pass on a message which then left requiring a last attempt to try and get through to Q2.
“Yeah they didn’t tell me what setting to be in at the start of the lap which happens at every start of qualifying lap, and they forgot to tell me,” Button replied.
“I went to the one I would normally go to and it just emptied the pack half way round the lap, so the last half of the lap I didn’t have any deployment. We can’t make little mistakes like this on the simple things, we’ve got bigger things to worry about.
— Formula 1 (@F1) September 25, 2015
“So it’s tough and then we had the yellow flag so I obviously backed off in the middle sector and was slow in the middle sector but I was able to find quite a bit of time back in the last sector because I had deployment, but it wasn’t enough.”
When it was put to Button it is crucial McLaren gets the basics right, he replied: “Yes.
“The car didn’t feel too bad to drive. You need to get everything out of it, you can’t make a single mistake. Even just getting the front wing half a turn out; everything has to be right. Then you have a chance of doing something at least but we definitely messed up today.”