By Andrew Benson Chief F1 writer at Suzuka The Japanese GP is live on 5 Live and the BBC Sport website at 06:10 BSTFerrari’s Sebastian Vettel produced a scintillating performance to take pole position at the Japanese Grand Prix.It was Vettel’s first pole since the Canadian Grand Prix in June and finally halted a run…
By Andrew Benson
Chief F1 writer at Suzuka
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel produced a scintillating performance to take pole position at the Japanese Grand Prix.
It was Vettel’s first pole since the Canadian Grand Prix in June and finally halted a run of nine races being out-qualified by team-mate Charles Leclerc.
The 21-year-old Monegasque, who has taken pole at the last four races, was second, 0.189 seconds behind.
Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton were third and fourth, both just over 0.2secs off the Ferraris.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Alexander Albon were fifth and sixth, setting exactly the same lap time, 0.787secs off the pace, a hugely impressive performance on the face of it from the Anglo-Thai on his first visit to Suzuka.
Vettel bounces back
But the story was Vettel, who has struggled somewhat in the second half of the season under the challenge of Leclerc but revived memories of some of his greatest performances in an illustrious career with two laps good enough for pole position.
Vettel revelled in his performance on the magnificent Suzuka track after a tricky session in which drivers were faced with strong gusting winds, a hangover from Typhoon Hagibis, which forced qualifying to be delayed from Saturday until race morning.
Vettel said: “We are quite surprised. We did not expect that to have the front row. It was unbelievable, the car being so light and on new tyres and we had a head wind through the Esses which is what you want. I don’t think I touched the brakes (there) other than into Turn Two.”
Leclerc was threatening him on his final lap until he made some errors at the chicane and accelerating on to the final straight but admitted that Vettel was just too good for him.
“Seb did an amazing lap,” Leclerc said, “and today he just deserves to be on pole. I have been a bit struggling since the beginning of the weekend. But I have been pretty happy with my lap apart from the final sector when I did a few mistakes. But to be honest, pole was possible, Seb was just too quick.”
Leclerc said he was wary of the threat from the Mercedes cars in the race.
“Mercedes are very quick in the race,” he said, “and it is not going to be easy but we will try to focus on our job and keep this one-two.”
Ferrari spring a surprise
Mercedes had dominated Friday practice but felt that Ferrari were holding something in reserve then, and so it proved.
Bottas, who has looked quicker than Hamilton all weekend, said: “We seemed quite strong but we always knew Ferrari might have something to turn up. Through the straights they are unbeatable. But we are quick through the corners.”
The difficult conditions led to two drivers crashing out in the same place at the final corner in the early part of qualifying, as Williams driver Robert Kubica and Haas’ Kevin Magnussen both lost control.
Kubica ran wide onto the grass and understeered into the barriers, while Magnussen spun and hit the barriers backwards, although he managed to get his car back to the pits.
Both teams face a race against time to get the cars ready in the short interval before the race starts at 14:10 local time (06:10 BST).