Nico Rosberg beat his Mercedes Formula 1 teammate Lewis Hamilton to pole position for the Japanese Grand Prix with a last gasp flying lap.
Under heavy grey skies at Suzuka, Hamilton was 0.195 in front of Rosberg after they had completed their first runs in Q3 ahead of the Ferrari and Red Bull drivers.
But on their second flying laps in the final part of qualifying, it was Rosberg who blitzed around the 5.8km track in a time of 1m30.647s to claim his eighth pole of 2016 – and the 30th of his F1 career – which left Hamilton 0.013s, or just 82cm over the length of the circuit, adrift.
The German driver, who has topped every single session so far this weekend, started from pole for the Japanese race for the last two seasons but lost out to Hamilton on both occasions.
Speaking after the session, Rosberg said: “Of course [I’m] happy with the result in the end. I was going well the whole weekend, I had a good balance in the car [and] I feel good and comfortable. That’s what allows me to put in a lap like that in the end. [I’m] pleased with that.
“[Tomorrow is about] putting everything together. For sure the start is going to be an important one, definitely tomorrow, and we’ve seen this weekend that it’s not been too easy because its downhill and the grip has been a bit lower than usual.
“It’s going to be an interesting challenge, and from then on I just need to get the tyre life to be able to do long enough stints to get the strategy to work. So it’s [about] putting everything together.”
Kimi Raikkonen qualified third for Ferrari, one spot ahead of his teammate Sebastian Vettel, who will drop to seventh as a result of the three-place grid penalty he was given for causing the first corner clash with Rosberg at the start of the Malaysian Grand Prix last weekend.
Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo ended the session in fifth and sixth for Red Bull, ahead of Force India’s Sergio Perez.
None of the front-runners have saved a set of new medium tyres for the race, as they lack stability. A two-stop strategy based on soft and hard tyres will be the optimum, which will allow the teams to react to potential safety cars and changes in weather and temperatures to make their choices of tyres and pit stop timings.
Haas F1 got two cars into Q3 for the first time in the team’s history as Romain Grosjean qualified in eighth place – the best result of his season so far – with Esteban Gutierrez 10th behind the second Force India of Nico Hulkenberg.
Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa will start 11th and 12th for Williams as they were pushed out by late improvements from the Haas and Force India drivers at the end of Q2.
Daniil Kvyat ended up 13th for Toro Rosso, one spot ahead of his teammate Carlos Sainz, who went off at the Spoon Curve after running wide onto the kerbs and spinning into the run off area on his final lap.
Fernando Alonso was 15th in the lead McLaren ahead of Renault’s Jolyon Palmer, one week on from the Malaysian Grand Prix where the Briton scored his first ever F1 point.
In Q1, Jenson Button failed to escape the first part of qualifying at Honda’s home track after a flurry of late improvements from other drivers pushed him into the bottom six.
Kevin Magnussen was 18th for Renault ahead of Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr. Esteban Ocon beat Pascal Wehrlein, who was set to take a five-place grid penalty after changing to a new gearbox, to 21st, as the Manor drivers brought up the rear of the field.
Japanese Grand Prix Qualifying results:
1 Nico Rosberg, Mercedes 1m30.647s
2 Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes 1m30.660s +0.013s
3 Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari 1m30.949s +0.302s
4 Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari 1m31.028s +0.381s
5 Max Verstappen, Red Bull 1m31.178s +0.531s
6 Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull 1m31.240s +0.593s
7 Sergio Perez, Force India 1m31.961s +1.314s
8 Romain Grosjean, Haas 1m31.961s +1.314s
9 Nico Hulkenberg, Force India 1m32.142s +1.495s
10 Esteban Gutierrez, Haas 1m32.547s +1.900s
11 Valtteri Bottas, Williams 1m32.315s +1.668s
12 Felipe Massa, Williams 1m32.380s +1.733s
13 Daniil Kvyat, Toro Rosso 1m32.623s +1.976s
14 Carlos Sainz, Toro Rosso 1m32.685s +2.038s
15 Fernando Alonso, McLaren 1m32.689s +2.042s
16 Jolyon Palmer, Renault 1m32.807s +2.160s
17 Jenson Button, McLaren 1m32.851s +2.204s
18 Kevin Magnussen, Renault 1m33.023s +2.376s
19 Marcus Ericsson, Sauber 1m33.222s +2.575s
20 Felipe Nasr, Sauber 1m33.332s +2.685s
21 Esteban Ocon, Manor 1m33.353s +2.706s
22 Pascal Wehrlein, Manor 1m33.561s +2.914s
What did you make of qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or head over to the JAonF1 Facebook page for more discussion.