SUZUKA, Japan — Just as he did in practice on Friday, Nico Rosberg outran Lewis Hamilton at Suzuka Circuitland, this time earning the pole position for the Japanese Grix during qualifying on Saturday.
Rosberg posted a time of 1:30.647 in the third and final knockout round, edging Hamilton by a whisker — .013 of a second, to be exact — en route to his 30th career F1 pole and eighth of the season.
The German now sits eighth on the championship’s all-time qualifying list, surpassing five-time World Champion Juan Manuel Fangio with his efforts in Japan.
“I’ve been feeling great all weekend, having felt incredibly comfortable in the car,” Rosberg said. “It gave me the confidence to push even harder at the end of Q3 … which meant I pulled out a great lap to recover pole from Lewis. Suzuka is a really difficult circuit because of the varying corners which means it’s even more difficult to get the car set up just right.”
“It’s great to start from P1, but as we’ve realized, it’s not the most important thing this year as you also need to get the start and the race strategy spot on. Lewis will push hard and so will the Ferraris and the Red Bulls. It’s clear that both these teams looked very strong on the high fuel. It will be an exciting race tomorrow, in front of Suzuka’s amazing fans. I’m definitely looking forward to it.”
The time differential between the two Mercedes equates to 82 centimeters, or 32 and a quarter inches, on the racing surface.
Hamilton’s time of 1:30.660 on his last run wasn’t quite enough to nab the top spot away from Rosberg, and he will start second on Sunday as he looks to erase a 23-point deficit in the point standings.
“This weekend has not been that easy,” Hamilton said. “I’d been veering one way with the setup of the car and then had to shuffle back going into qualifying and it felt like I was in no-mans-land as we approached Q1. With that in mind, I’m extremely happy that I was able to bring it back to that kind of gap. Of course, starting on pole is always a good thing but let’s hope the work we’ve been doing on the starts pays off. It’s also still hard to know at this stage what the weather is going to do but I’ll do the best I can tomorrow.”
While the Ferraris of Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel actually outran the Mercedes duo in Q1, they had to settle for third and fourth in the pole-decider, with Raikkonen posting a time of 1:30.949 and Vettel running a 1:31.028.
Vettel, however, will start seventh after a three-place grid penalty incurred for his opening lap, opening corner incident in Malaysia last time out.
The Red Bull pair of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo will share the third row, followed by Sergio Perez’s Force India.
Haas was the surprise of the day, with both cars making the cut for the final round and Romain Grosjean tying Perez’s lap of 1:31.961 in eighth. Grosjean was just ahead of the sister Force India, with Nico Hulkenberg gridding ninth, and his Haas teammate Esteban Gutierrez completing the top 10.
Both Williams cars missed Q3, with Valtteri Bottas being the first man out during Q2 in 11th.
McLaren’s day in qualifying was also disappointing, with Fernando Alonso timing in 15th and his teammate Jenson Button failing to advance from Q1 in 17th.
The Japanese Grand Prix goes green at 1 a.m. ET on Sunday, with live TV coverage on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app.