Hamilton threatens first Suzuka pole but Ferrari look good for the race

2017 Japanese Grand Prix Friday practice analysis

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If Friday’s performance figures are borne out over the next two days, we could have an utterly gripping Japanese Grand Prix on our hands.

Japanese GP practice in pictures
Thanks to the rain and Carlos Sainz Jnr’s crash, drivers only had around an hour of dry track time on Friday. And with further rain expected into tomorrow morning they might not see a dry track again until qualifying.

That brief window of running was enough for Ferrari to stake their claim to the top of the times sheets. But not by much: Sebastian Vettel was just two-tenths of a second quicker than Lewis Hamilton.

And, as we’ve seen often this year, Mercedes tend to pick up more performance from Friday practice to qualifying, thanks to those qualifying engine modes which the others haven’t matched yet. The chances of Hamilton taking his tenth pole position of the season tomorrow look good, even though he’s never had one before at Suzuka.

But if Mercedes should have the upper hand over one lap on the super-soft tyre, the soft tyre compound appears to be a different matter. Both Ferrari drivers were quicker on this compound, Vettel substantially so. And race day is expected to be several degrees warmer than the other two days of running, another factor which tends to tip the balance in Ferrari’s favour.

On paper, then, we could be looking at a Mercedes on pole with two Ferraris behind it which are very quick in race trim. Red Bull, winners last time out, are not to be discounted, but as Daniel Ricciardo admitted Ferrari seem to have something for them in race trim.

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Best times by tyre – first practice

DriverTeamBest super-soft timeSuper-soft gapBest soft timeSoft gapBest medium timeMedium gap
Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’29.3770.2111’30.0420.623None
Valtteri BottasMercedes1’30.1510.9851’30.2270.808None
Daniel RicciardoRed Bull1’29.5410.3751’33.0403.621None
Max VerstappenRed Bull1’30.7621.596NoneNone
Sebastian VettelFerrari1’29.1661’29.419None
Kimi RaikkonenFerrari1’29.6380.4721’29.9790.56None
Sergio PerezForce India1’31.5302.3641’32.1282.7096’04.096266.091
Esteban OconForce India1’30.8991.7331’31.7862.3675’20.096222.091
Felipe MassaWilliams1’31.9122.7461’31.9202.501None
Lance StrollWilliams1’31.6022.4361’32.4263.007None
Fernando AlonsoMcLaren1’31.2352.069None1’38.005
Stoffel VandoorneMcLaren1’31.2022.036None4’59.096201.091
Carlos Sainz JnrToro Rosso1’32.2523.086None3’18.288100.283
Pierre GaslyToro Rosso1’32.5013.3351’32.8773.4584’27.096169.091
Romain GrosjeanHaas1’31.0321.8661’31.7192.34’23.096165.091
Kevin MagnussenHaas1’31.2162.051’31.6202.2014’20.096162.091
Nico HulkenbergRenault1’30.9741.8081’31.3921.9732’11.88433.879
Jolyon PalmerRenault1’31.7572.5911’32.6833.2642’16.61538.61
Marcus EricssonSauber1’33.3974.231NoneNone
Pascal WehrleinSauber1’32.8973.731NoneNone

Combined practice times

PosDriverCarFP1FP2Total laps
1Sebastian VettelFerrari1’29.16624
2Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’29.3771’48.71933
3Daniel RicciardoRed Bull-TAG Heuer1’29.54127
4Kimi RaikkonenFerrari1’29.63823
5Valtteri BottasMercedes1’30.15130
6Max VerstappenRed Bull-TAG Heuer1’30.76226
7Esteban OconForce India-Mercedes1’30.8991’49.51825
8Nico HulkenbergRenault1’30.97425
9Romain GrosjeanHaas-Ferrari1’31.03222
10Stoffel VandoorneMcLaren-Honda1’31.20225
11Kevin MagnussenHaas-Ferrari1’31.21615
12Fernando AlonsoMcLaren-Honda1’31.23521
13Sergio PerezForce India-Mercedes1’31.5301’51.34526
14Lance StrollWilliams-Mercedes1’31.6021’52.34326
15Jolyon PalmerRenault1’31.75723
16Felipe MassaWilliams-Mercedes1’31.9121’52.14623
17Carlos Sainz JnrToro Rosso-Renault1’32.25215
18Pierre GaslyToro Rosso-Renault1’32.50118
19Pascal WehrleinSauber-Ferrari1’32.89731
20Marcus EricssonSauber-Ferrari1’33.39731

2017 Japanese Grand Prix

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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24 comments on “Hamilton threatens first Suzuka pole but Ferrari look good for the race”

  1. I think Red Bull is very fast. Verstappen was only .239 down on HAM’s time when he had to abort because of Sainz crash in FP 1

    1. @dutchtreat On the basis of today, no not really.

      It’s harder to overtake here, so pole here is very important, the efficiency and the power factor are high here. I’d say Mercedes looked stronger today than last weekend down to the grippy tarmac and the cool temperature that Toto keeps mentioning and also Ham being satisfied. In the end I think Ferrari is excluding quali the quicker car but it’s probably going to be another Lewis pole which will guarantee the victory and pretty much seal the championship.

  2. Lol what is up with Hamilton. Such a legendary qualifier and struggles to get pole on a drivers circuit like Suzuka.

    I miss Nico. Despite being a spoiled brat atleast he got the better of lewis on some circuits it seems.

    1. @jureo, is it really that much of a drivers circuit? Given the highly technical nature of the circuit, and in particular the first sector, I’ve usually seen it described as more of a test of the strength of a chassis rather than that of the driver.

      1. I believe it’s considered a drivers circuit due to the rhythm you tend to need around the quickly enountered and varying corners here, especially in the first sector.

        Many corner types are not encountered anywhere else in the season, making those like the spoon corner, turn 1 and the degner corners entirely unique. A driver needs to be very adaptable to run this circuit quickly.

        As you say, a great chassis is vital here due to the fast changes of direction, but a driver makes a much bigger difference here than other circuits such as Barcelona or Silverstone. They have their own unique circuits, but are typically well frequented as a driver qraduates through the system.

        That is why I believe Suzuka is such a challenge.

      2. I’m inclined to agree – I see Suzuka as a ‘drivers circuit’ in that it must be one of the most fun for them to drive, but it’s not one of the tracks where I think the driver can really make the difference. Same with Spa. People say ‘drivers circuit’ but I think that’s just a hangover from 20/30 years ago, when maybe they did have unique challenges.

        I think driver input has pretty much the same impact everywhere these days, but some circuits suit certain styles more.

      3. It’s very much a drivers circuit, there should be more of them.

      4. Didnt he have a top chassis 3 years in a row?

    2. 70 poles makes your statement a pointless one.

      So which driver hasn’t gotten the better of their teammate at some circuits?

    3. Well, Nico has only won once at Suzuka so I wouldn’t get so excited about him managing to out-qualify Lewis there. Contrary to what some believe, Nico Rosberg was actually an excellent qualifier. His racecraft was lacking compared to Lewis, but Rosberg was no slouch. He never was. Sure, Michael Schumacher was older (& past his best years, probably) when they were teammates, but as evidenced by his Monaco 2012 performance especially, he certainly never forgot how to pedal an F1 car around demanding circuits. It wasn’t a simple thing beating Webber (and Rosberg… and Hamilton…) to pole, IMO. Shame about the penalty…
      But yeah, Rosberg is a lot better than people ever gave him credit for. & he’ll never get the credit, because it’ll mean some would have to admit that it means that Rosberg was at least a match for Michael (which would mean at the very least that Lewis is as good as both, but more than likely better…)

      1. Meh, don’t agree with the last paragraph, schumacher was old enough to say he’d have destroyed rosberg at his prime, and rosberg was never hamilton level. IMO schumacher 100, hamilton 90, rosberg 80, I know schumacher wasn’t perfect either, but just to give an idea where I’d rank them.

        Rosberg improved as he spent more time fighting vs hamilton for the title, but even when he got the title it was still due to reliability, with even reliability hamilton would’ve still walked it.

        If the fact rosberg was a match for a schumacher who was 41, 42 and 43, then not sure it’s a compliment for rosberg, imo it isn’t, don’t forget schumacher was already a little past his peak at 37, his last ferrari year, he had the speed but was more mistake prone than at his best.

        1. Fair enough. Personally, I don’t think Rosberg was ever on Hamilton’s level either, or initially on Schumacher’s. But Rosberg was very good at studying his teammates & learning from them. He never got close to racing as good as Hamilton but was qualy was another story: agonizingly close quite a lot of times, & beating him quite a few times as well. I’ll even concede that an in-his-prime Schumi would’ve been too much for him as well. I was just trying to give them all their dues, & not attract the ire of the crazies.
          However, I’ve never rated Schumacher as highly as some, mainly due to the fact he was hardly ever allowed competition from a teammate (and never wanted it either), wasn’t above blatant dirty tricks on track, and the fact that quite a lot of his accolades came with the assistance of the FIA & special tires. Same reason I don’t rate Alonso or Vettel as highly either. Brilliant drivers, both of them. But if you’re afraid of fighting your teammate, I’m gonna rate the guy who’s not scared more highly. That’s why Hamilton’s my pick. That’s just me though.

          1. ROS was in the best car in the hybrid era and unfortunately had the worst possible team mate. ROS was a brilliant qualifier, i’d never take that accolade from him but again he had the worst possible team mate but on the flip side would ROS had been as good without the competition from his team mate? probably not.
            VET needs to be on the front row and will need to take some risks, i expect a confident HAM…

          2. No, whenever Alonso was up against his team mates from Fisichella, Massa, Kimi, Grosjean, Button and Stoffel they were all highly rated. It is afterwards people revise their opinions and claim they were second rate drivers only because their favourite driver has a tougher time putting their team mate away as convincingly. But please keep pushing this myth if it makes you feel better.

    4. @jureo Rest assured, Lewis is getting pole this weekend. It’s not a great stat for someone with 70 poles but I think it’s down to circumstances.

      I think people read too much into some stuff and people also put too many labels. For instances, the spoiled brat was running opel engines in f3 and the “poor” Lewis (much wealthier kid than me, who in turn is much wealthier than a homeless man or a citizen of a war stricken country), had the backing of Merc from age 13.
      Undermining Rosberg or Button is undermining Lewis, because both did a pretty good job dealing with Lewis pace, particularly Nico.

      1. Yeah. Bottas now shows how good Nico really was to take it against Hamilton and win 1/3.

  3. Vettel had a tow on his fast lap and it was set later when the track was rubbered in more. If the rumors are to be believed he was also on a much lighter fuel load.

  4. You forgot spell check … shOUld .. not shUOld :p

  5. The Bottas 5-place grid penalty looks like it could be significant, unable to offer Hamilton any protection at the start of the race if Mercedes do manage a 1-2 in qualifying, but Ferrari are a bit quicker in the race.

    1. Perfectly placed to block vettel after first pit stop.

  6. Lewis will still get it. S1 is almost S2 of Istanbul Park now with this aero-package. Ferrari won’t carry enough there. The track temp will be too low. P3 will be under high humidity. Ferrari will have problems in S3 up-hill and can’t test it thoroughly in P3. It will be close but people forget the amount of increased full-throttle moments the cars will run though… places like Degner, hairpin to Spoon, the dissected turn known as 130R…. you get the point.

    The problem here will be Kimi. I’m not sure he’ll get 3rd. If they want to keep the chance Vettel wins this WDC, they need to get Kimi to 3rd and not let him in front of Vettel. But…. how aggressive is RB going to go here to prevent that…? Will Max have fall-back like in Monaco after his win? Will Ricciardo sign his faith as 2nd driver? That is the question.

    1. Gilbert Ratchet
      6th October 2017, 23:34

      RBR will underperform in qualifying with Ricciardo stuffing it into a barrier in Q2 and Max getting his timing wrong and crossing the line too late for a second run in Q3. Mercedes front row, Ferraris on row two. Vettel will lose his front wing while giving Bottas a friendly puncture into turn 1 and Hamilton will retire on lap 22 with a blown engine, giving Raikkonen an easy win. Has anyone really been far even as decided to use even go want to do look more like?

  7. thanks to those qualifying engine modes which the others haven’t matched yet. The chances of Hamilton taking his tenth pole position of the season tomorrow look good

    When are we going to put this myth to rest once and for all?

    ALL the engines have a “qualifying mode”. This had been confirmed by various team principals.

    This year, there is basically no difference between Mercedes and Ferrari, with Renault lagging behind and missing a few tenths in this area.

    Where is Bottas with this unique qualifying mode? Or is it only on Lewis’s car?

    Truth is, if Lewis was in that Ferrari, he’d still be ahead on poles. In fact, if Rosberg was his teammate, they would have it sown up between themselves.

  8. We haven’t seen how strong Ferrari’s new engine is in qualifying. I reckon Mercedes are not going to be on pole this weekend. Ferrari looking too strong.

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