Japanese GP: 6 things you need to know from quali after another Ferrari disaster
Congratulations if you made it out of bed early enough to watch qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix this morning.
In case you snoozed through your alarm, here’s how they all stacked up at the end of the session, and everything you need to know ahead of Sunday’s race.
1. Lewis hits the big 8-0
During free practice on Friday, Lewis Hamilton was caught on the team radio declaring his love of driving around the awesome Suzuka circuit, and it was easy to see why he enjoys it so much when he sealed pole position for the race, ahead of Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas.
Incredibly, that is Hamilton 80th pole position in F1. He’s way out in front as the all-time poles record holder, and with at least another two years on his Merc contract, would you bet against him notching up his ton before he retires?
2. The rain came
Before the session started the weather experts predicted a 60 per cent chance of rain falling during quail.
It mostly stayed dry for Q1, but it did start to come down at the end of Q2 – which became obvious when Charles Leclerc, out late in the Sauber, spun through 360 degrees. He came to no harm though, as he caught the spin perfectly and continued on his way.
Though it did mean he had no chance of improving his time, meaning he failed to progress into Q3.
Still, in 11th and with a free tyre choice for tomorrow’s race, he could be on for another big points haul in the much-improved Sauber.
3. Ferrari make a mess of it
Mercedes proved why they are leading both championships today by getting their approach to qualifying spot on. They got Hamilton and Bottas out on track at exactly the right time and on exactly the right tyres to lock out another 1-2 front row in what was a very changeable and challenging session.
Ferrari meanwhile perhaps proved why they are trailing in the title battle after botching another session with poor strategy calls.
With a little rain having fallen at the end of Q2, the Scuderia sent out both Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen out on intermediate tyres at the start of Q3, while Mercedes had sent their drivers out on slicks.
Sure enough, as soon as Vettel got on track he radioed back to tell the team it was far too dry for inters, and that he was coming straight back in.
But while they were changing back to slicks, Hamilton and Bottas were out on track and set their times while the circuit was at its fastest.
By the time Vettel went out it had already started to lose speed, and then the rain did come at the end of the session, leaving the German on the wrong tyres again.
In the end he could do no better than ninth on the grid, with Kimi up in fourth.
A shot of team boss Maurizio Arrivabene shaking his head on the pit wall summed up what a disaster it was, on a day when Ferrari needed a good result to stay in the title hunt.
4. Hartley and Honda smash it
Honda and Brendon Hartley – two names that have had to endure lorryloads of criticism since coming into F1.
But today it came right for both of them. Honda had brought a new engine upgrade for this, their home race, promising it would give the Toro Rossos an extra half a second per lap.
Yeah, yeah, heard that one before, Honda.
Except this time, it actually seemed to be true.
Amazingly, both STRs got into Q3, and perhaps even more amazingly, the much-maligned Hartley out qualified his more highly rated team-mate Pierre Gasly with the pair lining up sixth and seventh respectively.
Red Bull driver chief Helmut Marko has told Hartley he must beat Gasly in the last races of the season to be in with a chance of keeping his seat next year, so this couldn’t have come at a better time for the Kiwi racer.
5. A penny for Zak Brown’s thoughts
McLaren had years and years of Honda promising big upgrades in power that never seemed to materialise, causing the British team to dump them in favour of Renault engines for this year.
Are the Macca top brass regretting that decision now? The contrast with Toro Rosso is stark: sixth and seventh, versus 18th and 19th for Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne.
Even worse, at this race last year, Alonso qualified in the top ten with a Honda engine.
Last season we thought McLaren had reached rock bottom. How wrong we were. The question now is, where do they go from here?
6. Red Bull can’t wait to get Honda power
If the McLaren bosses are shaking their heads in dismay at Honda’s new-found power, the Red Bull big cheeses must be rubbing their hands together in glee.
They will have the Japanese engines next year, ending a fraught relationship with Renault. That relationship only got worse today when Daniel Ricciardo was forced out of qualifying in Q2 with another power unit failure.
He was furious afterwards and could be heard screaming in frustration as he walked down the pit lane.
Red Bull will soon be rid of Renault and will be hoping to challenge at the front with Honda next year, but Danny Ricc will have not only a Renault engine but also a chassis when he moves to the works team next year. Who will end up with the better deal there? Only time will tell on that one.
The Bulls do still have one car in the fight though, after Max Verstappen sealed third place on the grid with another excellent drive.
Set your alarm clocks for the race
It will be lights out for the race at 6.10am BST on Sunday morning, so set your alarm clocks now, and we'll see you in the Home of F1 live chat channel to watch along then. And don't hit the snooze button!