Japanese GP - Saturday - Qualifying Session Report
Lewis Hamilton took pole position for the Japanese Grand Prix, ending all the fantasies that had gone on in the earlier practice sessions. The McLaren driver was clearly in command in the all-important Q3 session and ended up two-tenths faster than the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen, who seemed to be less than happy with second on the grid, which was odd given his poor efforts in recent events. The implication was that the Finn might have been running a lighter fuel load in order to get himself up front to keep Hamilton busy in the race. If this turns out to be the case and Raikkonen fails to get ahead at the start, he is going to end up in a less than sensible place in the race. As expected qualifying ended up being a straight fight between McLaren and Ferrari with Fernando Alonso sneaking into fourth in the final moments in his Renault. This would seem to suggest that the team's amazing improvement in recent weeks is continuing, although it is hard to see how this has been achieved, gievn how hard it is for teams to move up and down the F1 ladder at the moment. The only conclusion is that Renault must have been doing a very poor job at the start of the year to have made such progress. BMW Sauber was more or less where one expects to see the team but, as usual, Nick Heidfeld had a bad qualifying and ended up 16th, while Robert Kubica was sixth.
The two Toyotas were seventh and eighth with Jarno Trulli outqualifying Timo Glock but given the team's playing with fuel loads in practice it was hard to know whether or not these lap times can be taken seriously or not. Certainly the team has looked better in recent months but it is still not yet in a position to challenge for podiums, without a little divine intervention to help out. The top 10 was completed by the two Scuderia Toro Rossos with Sebastian Vettel, half a second clear of Sebastien Bourdais. This was pretty much where one would expect to see the two customer cars given the power of the Ferrari engines.
The Red Bulls continued to struggle to keep up with the Toro Rossos and so David Coulthard and Mark Webber were 11th and 13th, the two being split by the Renault factory car of Nelson Piquet. Fourteenth and fifteenth were the two Williams-Toyotas with Kazuki Nakajima outrunning Nico Rosberg on this occasion, which is not a great reflection on the German, as the rebuilt circuit is very different to that which Kazuki would have raced up as a youth.
Behind the disappointing Heidfeld were the two Hondas of Rubens Barrichello and Jenson Button - not a great performance in front of the home crowd - and the two Force Indias brought up the rear of the grid as usual with Adrian Sutil outrunning Giancarlo Fisichella but a chunky margin.
It was interesting to note that the circuit seemed to divide the teams on a team-by-team basis, with the disappointments thus standing out rather more than normal. Massa, Piquet and Heidfeld may also have been aware of this phenomenon.