For the first time in 31 years, Qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix takes place in the foothills of Mount Fuji. The 4.563 kilometre Toyota-owned Fuji Speedway, having been refreshed by Hermann Tilke, was favoured to host the 2007 Grand Prix over the Honda-owned Suzuka Circuit, where Michael Schumacher s title charge came to an end last year.
Rain and mist looked as though it would delay Qualifying, with the medical helicopter grounded and Final Practice abandoned due to the bad weather. However, a decision was made to take to the track nonetheless. It should be noted that Rosberg has to take a ten place drop post qualifying, after an engine change following the Belgian Grand Prix.
The track continually improves during the session. With 1:40 remaining Lewis Hamilton is in eighteenth position. He was blocked during the final sector of his previous lap, but managed to set a time to put himself in third. Ralf Schumacher collides with the Spyker of Yamamoto and although scrapes through to Q2, his car is too damaged to continue and he qualifies in 16th place.
There were high hopes for local drivers Takuma Sato and Sukon Yamamoto however both struggle for pace and finish on the back row of the grid.
Drivers knocked out:
The track starts to improve throughout Q2, although it is still fairly wet. The drivers have a choice of the Bridgestone wet (akin to the intermediates of old) or extreme-wet tyres, with the majority of drivers opting for the regular wet tyres.
Trulli is one of the first drivers to take to the track, running on intermediate tyres. Jarno, the last of the Toyota runners with Ralf Schumacher s car too badly damaged to continue, completes the lap in 1:27.891. Kubica quickly overhauls his time on a 1:26.306, only for Webber to complete a lap on 1:26.110. Alonso was next to complete his lap on 1:24.978, with Hamilton going second ahead of Massa and Raikkonen. Massa runs off the track at Turn 3 however no damage is done and he continues on his way.
With seven minutes remaining, Hamilton sets a lap of 1:25.050, but he, like the Ferraris, is unable to overhaul his team-mate Alonso, who improved on a 1:24.806. With four minutes remaining, Hamilton improves to 1:24.753 to finally beat the Spaniard. Meanwhile Raikkonen is called into the weigh-bridge, compromising any further runs in this session.
Both the Renaults struggle in Q2, and with two-minutes remaining both are outside the top ten. Kovalainen and Coulthard both have minor off-track excursions, but both survive and continue round the track. Raikkonen improves to third.
Drivers knocked out:
Vettel makes it into the final session for Toro Rosso. Raikkonen runs wide onto the tarmac run off as he attempted to understand the limit of the track, the Finn rejoined without damage. With eight minutes remaining, Hamilton and Button pits, taking on new and used intermediates respectively.
On old tyres Alonso sets a time of 1:25.539. On new tyres Hamilton can only improve his time in third. Raikkonen and Alonso pit for new tyres with five minutes remaining. With three minutes remaining, both BMWs hamper the Ferraris as Massa and Raikkonen attempt to improve their times. Hamilton pits with 2:29 remaining. Alonso improves to 1:25.438, Raikkonen improves in second, on a 1:25.516.
Hamilton comes out of the pits with little time to spare. After he drives his out-lap, he sets a personal best in Sector 2 before crossing the line seven-hundredths of a second ahead of Fernando Alonso to take pole position with a time of 1:25.438. It s an all-McLaren front row, with an all-Ferrari second-row with Raikkonen the better of the two Ferrari men.
Vettel finishes in eighth place- the best qualifying position ever for the Toro Rosso team. Vettel is doubly happy as he has a bet on himself that he will make it through to Q3 and so has won himself an extra 20 pounds.
Rosberg finishes a credible sixth place however will take a ten-place grid penalty thanks to an engine change prior to the Grand Prix weekend.
Jenson Button ensures that there is hope for the local supporters when he qualifies in seventh place for Japanese team, Honda. He will start in sixth position tomorrow due to Rosberg s engine penalty.
Concerns for Ferrari as Raikkonen reveals in the post-qualifying interviews that at the end of the session, he suffered from a gearbox problem however he is confident that the problem is easily solved and won t cause a problem during tomorrow s race.
With less than a second separating the top 10 men, if track conditions remain wet, it should be a close, exciting race tomorrow.
The final lap times for Q1 are as follows:
Rosberg 1:26.728 (ten place penalty)