After Hamilton’s dramatic retirement from the Malaysian Grand Prix, Rosberg has built himself a comfortable lead with 5 races still to go in the season. Is Hamilton strong enough to come back with a pole position, and will Red Bull continue with their great performance from Malaysia? Find out here.

FP1

Because of Hamilton’s engine blowing up in Malaysia, all four Mercedes powered teams are running an engine mapping that costs them about a tenth of performance a lap. Usually, that shouldn’t stop the Silver Arrows from dominating, and it didn’t.

Rosberg and Hamilton started with a one-two into the weekend, and Rosberg left Vettel behind by over one second. Red Bull even further away but refused to run the soft tire. On the same tire, their long run is closer to Mercedes than Ferrari’s.

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Suzuka has been called the “one and only track” by Vettel ahead of the weekend, and the challenging layout came to bite quite a few drivers: Alonso spun his McLaren in the quick spoon corner and tore off the rear wing, and Romain Grosjean had another brake issue that sent him into the gravel. According to the team, there are issues regarding the quality of parts used on the braking system, which is exactly what a driver wants to hear before of sitting down in a 960hp car.

PROVISIONAL CLASSIFICATION (10 MINS TO GO): Two by two down to P8, Mercedes on top 💪 #FP1 🇯🇵 #JapaneseGP #F1 pic.twitter.com/OMe685i42n

— Formula 1 (@F1) 7. Oktober 2016

FP2

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The track stayed dry for FP2 as well, which gave the teams the chance to try out the longevity of Pirelli’s tire selection. And it’s interesting: the soft tire is a whole second quicker in pure pace, but the hard one is the preferred long run tire over the medium one as its harder construction gives the driver confidence and pace pretty much stays consistent. This race could be another strategy thriller.

Especially since the gap to Mercedes is nonexistent. At least in race simulation. Red Bull, just like in Malaysia, was right up there if not a tad superior. And Ferrari needed just another step in terms of setup to have a chance given good strategy and a bit of luck. The pole position would be an all Mercedes competition though.

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And behind the top three? Force India still has the upper hand over Williams in that battle, with McLaren having an outsiders chance of points. Haas meanwhile was not a top ten contender, and at the back Renault outpaced Sauber and Manor.

PROVISIONAL CLASSIFICATION: ROS on 🔥 in #FP2, RAI keeping Ferrari in touch in P3, 0.323s shy #JapaneseGP 🇯🇵 #F1 pic.twitter.com/1d5uZcsSyP

— Formula 1 (@F1) 7. Oktober 2016

 

Qualifying

While a rainy qualifying has a certain appeal, the dry Saturday gives us the chance to clearly see which team builds a car that’s working on the roller coaster that is Suzuka.

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Remarkably, Manor came within less than a tenth to Sauber. The Manors is the car with the simplest chassis and least downforce, so it’s telling of Sauber’s lack of performance. And even more remarkable is that Ocon, who has replaced Haryanto midway through the season, outqualified fellow Mercedes junior Wehrlein for the second time in a row. The team lowered his seat by four centimeters in Sepang to give him a better feel for the car, and it shows. No wonder he’s a designated Renault driver for next year, he after all defeated Verstappen in Formula 3.

Jenson Button, possibly competing in his last Japanese Grand Prix, didn’t have the newest engine block in the car yet. The disadvantage cost him dearly as his session ended in Q1. Alonso, running the new engine, survived.

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But McLaren still is not good enough for an uplifting performance at Honda’s home race. Alonso ended up 15th, ahead of Palmer. It’s a long way into the points, as he will have to move past two Williams and two Toro Rossos.

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Haas F1 had a sudden spike in performance and brought both cars into the top 10. Gutierrez will start from P10, while Grosjean had a near perfect lap that was good enough to leave Hülkenberg behind. Grosjean actually set the exact same lap time as Perez, which is a huge achievement for Haas.

With that, it’s time to take a look at the big three teams. Rosberg had the upper hand in every single session until Q3, when Hamilton set a solid lap time in his first try. Suddenly, he was ahead, and Rosberg would have to rely on his second shot to continue his dominance over Lewis. And he delivered. In the end, 0.013 of a second separated them both.

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For a brief moment, it looked like Räikkönen could score a surprise pole. In the end, he was three tenths away from Rosberg’s time, but Ferrari showed massive improvement and left Red Bull behind with Vettel finishing fourth. Sadly, a grid penalty will see him start three spots further back.

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With race pace this close and six winning drivers in potentially winning cars up front, make sure to tune in to the Japanese Grand Prix. It’s worth it.

PROVISIONAL CLASSIFICATION (END OF #QUALI): ROS on top, @ScuderiaFerrari beat out Red Bull #JapaneseGP 🇯🇵 #F1 pic.twitter.com/Tsqy0sCT5A

— Formula 1 (@F1) 8. Oktober 2016