2014 Japanese Grand Prix: Saturday Analysis

Rosberg Capitalises On Lewis’ Mistake

Following the monumental news that Sebastian Vettel’s time at Red Bull has come to an end, Qualifying was somewhat of an anti-climatic end to the day. In fact, today’s qualifying was perhaps the least important session, of its type, of the year, considering the dire weather forecast, as all eyes are on Typhoon Phanfone. Nevertheless, Lewis Hamilton’s clumsy crash at turn two during FP3 gave Nico Rosberg the upper hand in their usual Saturday duel and the German did not disappoint, taking P1 on the grid. A mistake from Hamilton on the exit of Spoon Curve cost him those all important two tenths which eventually split the duo. While overtaking is challenging at Suzuka – almost every aspect of the circuit is just that – the predicted 11 millimeters of rain per hour tomorrow, may well make the qualifying result reasonably academic.

Mercedes A-Class

A Mercedes front row lockout has hardly been a collectors item this season and despite many analysts suggesting that the chasing pack had made significant strides towards the championship leaders in recent weeks, Mercedes’ advantage looked as healthy as ever today. Despite a difficult morning following Lewis’ crash, the unwanted repair work was completed just in time and did not disrupt qualifying for Hamilton.
However, the lack of experience on the medium compound tyre may have been the differentiating factor between Rosberg and Hamilton today, with the latter making the costly mistake in the final part of qualifying. Rosberg simply had the edge over his rival throughout the day and was, in truth, good value for his 12th career pole.
“It wasn’t the best of sessions today but it was a decent recovery considering the crash in FP3,” Hamilton said. “I just overcooked it this morning and the team did a fantastic job to put the car back together. Our mechanics are the best, they work so hard to get everything perfect. I feel good but I just wasn’t quick enough today.”
While it was a battle for supremacy at Mercedes which decided the front row, Valtteri Bottas won the battle to be best of the rest, with a superb lap, just six tenths shy of Rosberg’s timesheet topping attempt. Considering the forecast for tomorrow, Bottas may have a chance of victory, should the race be as chaotic as is suggested. His previous performances in the wet have highlighted these credentials.

In Need Of An RB9? 

While the RB10 has been somewhat of a revelation this season, considering its frequent failures in pre-season testing, Red Bull found themselves at a significant pace deficit today. Headline forging Sebastian Vettel could only manage P9, while Daniel Ricciardo, soon to be the most experienced man in the Red Bull pile, had to settle for P6.
It is highly likely that the team may have opted to carry much more downforce into the session, accounting for the weather forecast for tomorrow’s race more than their rivals. It seemed suspiciously so, when Vettel found himself eight tenths off of the pace in the technical sector one – I doubt the RB10’s chassis has gone from superior to inferior in the space of two weeks. As such, it will be interesting to see if Red Bull can recover their weekend tomorrow. Certainly, a podium is still obtainable, despite Williams looking like they have the upper hand, albeit in the dry.

Lotus Lethargic

In a session of few surprises, Lotus suffered yet another dismal afternoon, with both cars dropping out of qualifying at the Q1 stage. To compound the issue, Pastor Maldonado’s ten-place grid drop due to his using of a sixth internal combustion engine, could not be fully served this weekend, with five places being carried over to the Russian Grand Prix, next weekend. A miserable season gets even worse for a Lotus team still stuck on their tally of eight points. Ultimately, they will hope for wet conditions tomorrow, as a wet circuit is notorious for leveling the playing field.
  
FP3 Timesheet
1 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:33.228

2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +0.982
3 Fernando Alonso Ferrari +1.211
4 Felipe Massa Williams +1.336
5 Valtteri Bottas Williams +1.833
6 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull +1.858
7 Kevin Magnussen McLaren +2.023
8 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso +2.266
9 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso +2.310
10 Jenson Button McLaren +2.321
11 Nico Hulkenberg Force India +2.504
12 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari +2.767
13 Sergio Perez Force India +3.137
14 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber +3.179
15 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull +3.232
16 Romain Grosjean Lotus +3.330
17 Pastor Maldonado Lotus +3.389
18 Adrian Sutil Sauber +3.398
19 Marcus Ericsson Caterham +4.139
20 Max Chilton Marussia +4.655
21 Jules Bianchi Marussia +4.874

22 Kamui Kobayashi Caterham +5.556

Qualifying Result

1 Nico Rosberg Mercedes
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
3 Valtteri Bottas Williams
4 Felipe Massa Williams
5 Fernando Alonso Ferrari
6 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull
7 Kevin Magnussen McLaren
8 Jenson Button McLaren
9 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull
10 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari
11 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso
12 Sergio Perez Force India
13 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso
14 Nico Hulkenberg Force India
15 Adrian Sutil Sauber
16 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber
17 Romain Grosjean Lotus
18 Marcus Ericsson Caterham
19 Jules Bianchi Marussia
20 Kamui Kobayashi Caterham

21 Max Chilton Marussia
22 Pastor Maldonado Lotus*

*Pastor Maldonado drops five places as a result of exceeding the maximum allowance of internal combustion engines.

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