Mercedes lock out front row as Hamilton takes second. Bottas and Massa third and fourth for Williams.Nico Rosberg bounced back from the disappointment of losing his championship lead to team-mate Lewis Hamilton in Singapore by comfortably claiming his eighth pole position of the season in Suzuka, his first at the circuit, beating Hamilton to the front of the Japanese Grand Prix grid by two tenths of a second.
Williams locked out the second row of the grid with Valtteri Bottas third ahead of team-mate Felipe Massa. Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso was fifth, for the sixth time this season.
In the first session Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne was the early pacesetter, before Rosberg got things properly started with a lap of 1:37.671 five minutes into the session. That was soon eclipsed by Hamilton, who went six hundredths of a second quicker than his team-mate. Bottas slotted into third place ahead of team-mate Felipe Massa, with Alonso sixth.
That order remained intact until the end of the 18-minute segment. Further back the drop zone was shaping up in largely predictable fashion, and before the final runs the final six places were occupied by Caterhams, Marussias, but also the Force India of Sergio Perez and the Lotus of Romain Grosjean.
In the final-run shake-up Perez comfortably moved up to P13. Grosjean, though, was not so fortunate. The Lotus driver, complaining of “no traction, no grip on the option tyre”, was eliminated in 18th place. Also out were team-mate Pastor Maldonado (P17), Marcus Ericsson, Jules Bianchi, Kamui Kobayashi and Max Chilton.
It was a close-run thing for the Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel in the opening segment. Vettel claimed his Q2 berth with a time of 1:35.517 that was good enough for P14, while Ricciardo went through a place behind.
In the second session, the first series of runs saw Rosberg claim top spot ahead of Hamilton, with Bottas once again third ahead of Alonso and Massa.
In the drop zone at this point were Ricciardo and Vettel, the Red Bulls again appearing to struggle. Ricciardo eventually eased into the top-10 shoot-out in P7 with a lap of 1:34.466. Vettel, though, scraped through in 10th place, just two tenths of second clear of 11th-placed Jean-Eric Vergne, who outqualified 13th-placed team-mate Daniil Kvyat by a tenth of a second.
Out went 12th-placed Perez, Nico Hulkenberg in P14 and then the Saubers of Adrian Sutil and Esteban Gutierrez.
In the final session, it was Rosberg who drew first blood, the German ending the opening runs in provisional pole position, with a lap of 1:32.629, just under three tenths of a second clear of Hamilton. Bottas was again third – just under four tenths down on Hamilton – with Massa fourth ahead of Alonso, Magnussen and seventh-placed Ricciardo. Button was eighth ahead of Vettel, while Kimi Raikkonen did not emerge from the Ferrari garage during the first part of the final 12-minute session.
In the end Rosberg landed his eighth pole position of the season comfortably. The German set a personal best in the tricky first sector and then lit up the timing screens with session-best times in S2 and S3 to secure a lap time of 1:32.506. Hamilton had no response and the title leader finished two tenths down on his team-mate.
Williams locked out row two, with Bottas ahead of Massa, while Alonso was fifth. Ricciardo will line up sixth for Red Bull Racing ahead of the McLarens of Magnussen and Button, while row five will see Vettel start ahead of Raikkonen whose sole lap, a 1:34.548, was only good enough for 10th.
1. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m32.506s 2. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m32.703s 3. Valtteri Bottas Williams/Mercedes 1m33.128s 4. Felipe Massa Williams/Mercedes 1m33.527s 5. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m33.740s 1.234s6. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull/Renault 1m34.075s 7. Kevin Magnussen McLaren/Mercedes 1m34.242s 8. Jenson Button McLaren/Mercedes 1m34.317s 9. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull/Renault 1m34.432s 10 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m34.542s 2.036s11 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso/Renault 12 Sergio Perez Force India/Mercedes 1m35.089s 13 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso/Renault 1m35.092s 14 Nico Hulkenberg Force India/Mercedes 1m35.099s 15 Adrian Sutil Sauber/Ferrari 1m35.364s -16 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber/Ferrari 1m35.681s 17 Romain Grosjean Lotus/Renault 1m35.984s -18 Marcus Ericsson Caterham/Renault 1m36.813s 19 Jules Bianchi Marussia/Ferrari 1m36.943s 20 Kamui Kobayashi Caterham/Renault 1m37.015s 21 Max Chilton Marussia/Ferrari 1m37.481s 22 Pastor Maldonado Lotus/Renault 1m35.917s