Nico Rosberg delivered an excellent final lap to snatch pole position from Lewis Hamilton by just 0.013s in a dramatic qualifying session for the Japanese Grand Prix.
Having been quickest throughout every practice session and had 0.4s over Hamilton in both Q1 and Q2, Rosberg found himself slightly adrift of his team-mate after the first runs in the pole position shootout, with Ferrari and Red Bull also within half a second.
Despite the pressure, Rosberg delivered with his final lap to lower the benchmark to 1:30.647, and although Hamilton improved he fell 0.013s short as pole position at Suzuka continues to evade him. Mercedes calculated the gap as equating to 82cm between its two drivers over a lap. Kimi Raikkonen also produced an impressive time at the end of the session to take third on the grid, 0.3s off Rosberg.
While Sebastian Vettel qualified fourth - 0.079s behind his team-mate - he will start from seventh as a result of his grid penalty for hitting Rosberg at the start in Malaysia. That promotes Max Verstappen to fourth and Daniel Ricciardo to fifth after a close qualifying between Red Bull and Ferrari, while Sergio Perez will also start ahead of Vettel.
Romain Grosjean set an identical lap time to Perez in Q3 but will start from eighth place having been the second of the two to post the time. However it still marks the best qualifying position for Haas this season during a competitive session as team-mate Esteban Gutierrez qualified tenth behind Nico Hulkenberg.
With the two Haas drivers impressing in seventh and eighth - behind Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull - it was left to Force India and Williams to scrap over the final two spots in Q3. It was the Force Indias who advanced as both Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa went early and were bumped down with the final laps.
In another close session, there was remarkable symmetry as the top fourteen cars all went in team order, with Mercedes leading Ferrari, Red Bull, Haas, Force India, Williams and Toro Rosso. Daniil Kvyat got the better of the Toro Rosso battle as team-mate Carlos Sainz spun at Spoon on his final attempt, causing a brief yellow flag which prevented Jolyon Palmer from improving on his Q1 time. Palmer ended the session 16th as a result, one place behind Fernando Alonso.
Jenson Button was the shock elimination in Q1 as Honda had a disappointing qualifying at its home race. The two McLarens ran together on track and Alonso managed to outqualify his team-mate by just 0.032s, which proved crucial as others improved around them. Palmer and Sainz went ahead, with the Toro Rosso in 14th just 0.062s ahead of Button.
Kevin Magnussen failed to follow his Renault team-mate through to Q2 after a mistake in the final chicane, while Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr just managed to get the better of the Manor pair of Esteban Ocon and Pascal Wehrlein, with Ocon 0.021s slower than Nasr as he again outqualified his Manor team-mate for the second race in a row. Wehrlein lost most of his time in the final sector but was already facing a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change.
|05||Max Verstappen||Red Bull||1:32.487||1:31.489||1:31.178|
|06||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull||1:32.538||1:31.719||1:31.240|
|07||Sergio Perez||Force India||1:32.682||1:32.237||1:31.961|
|09||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India||1:32.448||1:32.200||1:32.142|
|13||Daniil Kvyat||Toro Rosso||1:32.645||1:32.623|
|14||Carlos Sainz||Toro Rosso||1:32.789||1:32.685|