Daniel Ricciardo will be welcoming what must seem like an ever lengthening year coming to an end after yet another apparent engine failure took him out of the qualifying sessions at Suzuka. The look on his face and the body language was all that was needed to get an idea of the Australia’s utter frustration at Red Bull’s inability to deliver a competitive, consistent, driveline package. His wound was extra salty as his team mate Max Verstappen had both no such Red Bull issue nor a problem in getting himself into the second row for a P3.
Television viewers may also be sending medical bills to the overwhelmed Perth driver, with a full blown yell of sheer annoyance being understandably let loose. If the end diagnosis is confirmed as yet another terminal engine failure then Ricciardo goes from fifteenth to rear of grid thanks to having used up his Renault engine allocation.
He must be wondering if he could smuggle in a Toro Rossi Honda engine as both of the junior team cars made it through to Q3. Kiwi driver Brandon Hartley hasn’t lit up the timing sheets so far but a creditable sixth place will surely ease some of the pressure. It’s just the second time this year that the 23 year old New Zealander has made it through to the final qualifying. Team mate Pierre Gasly will also be walking with a lighter step with just under 0.1 of a second seeing both of the newly upgraded Honda power plants doing the job getting the Frenchman into seventh behind Hartley
Not unexpectedly it was Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton to claim pole and his 80th at that, ahead of his team mate Valterri Bottas who will start from P2. The weather at Suzuka had gone from steady sun to uncertainty with precipitation sweeping the circuit. Mercedes seem to have a knack of making brave calls stick and so it was again with the team opting to Field Supersofts for Hamilton in Q3.
It proved to be “A masterstroke” according to Toto Wolff, as the early part of Q3 proved to be a win for Mercedes and briskets for the rest. The rest included Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel, with the beginning of the session the optimal time to go out, and a chance missed by the German. The decision by Ferrari to send Vettel and the soon to retire Kimi Raikkonen out on intermediates seemed logical but the weather simply hadn’t laid down enough moisture to make the call workable.
Adding to Vettel’s misery was a spin during the all important Q3, with the result seeing Raikkonen in fourth and Vettel down in ninth which would soon become eighth. P5 goes to Haas and Romain Grosjean. Esteban Ocon was due to start from P8 but a post practice judgement on an infringement sees him back to P11 which brings up Vettel by one, with Sergio Perez and Charles Leclerc looking to be the official end of the top ten.
The race commences at 14:10 local time at the Suzuka Circuit, Japan.