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Fuji 2008: Hamilton Storms To Japanese Pole Position

Fuji 2008: Hamilton Storms To Japanese Pole Position

Lewis Hamilton has taken pole position for the Japanese Grand Prix, fending off strong advances from Ferrari and Kimi Raikkonen. The Scuderia didn’t have a great qualifying session and it was thanks to Raikkonen’s sudden improvement that the team aren’t completely out of contention. Massa qualified down in fifth while Heikki Kovalainen claimed third after a great final run. Fernando Alonso will start the race in fourth and Robert Kubica managed sixth in his BMW.

Q1

The first qualifying round was its usual predictable self, the drivers all resisting the urge to go out early and instead wait for the track to improve as the temperature rose. Rain had fallen overnight as well, meaning the surface was damp in places. One driver who started as he was meaning to go on was Toyota’s Timo Glock. The young German racer went fastest early on, but the time set was actually quite respectable. Although others would knock him off the top of the tables, Glock showed the paddock that Toyota meant business.

Last year I got into trouble for even suggesting that Toyota like to run corporate laps at the Japanese Grand Prix, but as the first twenty-minute session drew to a close Glock found himself at the top of the timing sheet again with an even faster time of 1m17.945s. Even eventual pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton couldn’t match Timo’s lap, setting a nearest time of 1m18.071s.

Both Force Indias were out of qualifying in Q1, Giancarlo Fisichella lapping some 0.8s shy of his team mate Adrian Sutil in the sister car. Both Hondas were also eliminated early on, Rubens Barrichello interestingly going faster than Jenson Button. And Nick Heidfeld found himself in trouble as well, only managing to set the sixteenth fastest time.

Q2

The second stage of deciding the grid saw Jarno Trulli come to terms with his team mate and the Italian closed up on Glock. Although there was to be no fastest lap in Q2 for the Toyota team, having both drivers together near the top shows improvement. In fact, all the times were close together in Fuji this afternoon, and Q2 was particularly tight. Hamilton went fastest with a 1m17.462s, and Nico Rosberg went slowest with a 1m18.672s. Just 1.2s separated the fastest from the slowest.

Leaving the show early in Q2 were both Williams, although Kazuki Nakajima was having a relatively good weekend until qualifying. The local hero has out-qualified his team mate and will line up in fourteenth position on the grid. Both Red Bulls are suffering as well, Mark Webber only qualifying in thirteenth and David Coulthard a little ahead in eleventh. Nelson Piquet Jr was the fifth and final casualty from the second part of qualifying, leaving it until the final moment before heading out and setting a lap that was only worthy of P12. He really shouldn’t have bothered.

Q3

The final ten-minute top-ten decider was actually closer to a six-minute decider as many drivers left it until quite late before venturing out on to the track. And when the drivers did finally make an appearance on-track, it was Raikkonen who all of a sudden looked ultra-sharp. Setting purple sectors the Finn quickly went to the top of the class with a lap that seemed to come from absolutely no where. Lewis Hamilton followed with a shoddy lap and could only reply with a P3 while both Scuderia Toro Rosso drivers kept out of the mix in ninth and tenth.

The final run was set up then and it was clear that Hamilton had the pace, but his McLaren was a little ragged in places. Felipe Massa should have been somewhere near the top but wasn’t enjoying his Saturday running and Heikki Kovalainen wasn’t too far behind, capitalising on Ferrari’s slight shake-up. Kimi Raikkonen went first and improved his time, compounding his pace and stretching the gauntlet further from Hamilton’s reach. Felipe Massa followed his team mate over the line and improved to second before falling down to fifth, but it was Lewis Hamilton who impressed the most with a final time that cleared the pole position by 0.24s.

Jarno Trulli corrected the order at Toyota by finally beating his team mate; the Italian lines up seventh while Glock is in eighth. Fernando Alonso set a great final lap and will start the race fourth, ahead of Felipe Massa and Robert Kubica.

And so the grid has been decided, and Ferrari need to find a way of getting Felipe Massa up towards the front. Kimi Raikkonen is pretty much out of title-contention – although the Finn can still mathematically win the title, it is highly unlikely – whereas Massa is just seven points behind Hamilton in the championship. With Kovalainen in grid-slot three though, the Scuderia have their work cut out. This could be a comeback race for Raikkonen and his reputation, where we once again see the champion give everybody a driving lesson. Or, Kimi could be light.

And just for the record, I do not believe the Toyotas were running particularly light in Q3, as their final times look fairly representative of their pace this weekend. So all in all, the race looks set to be a battle between Ferrari and McLaren although given the nature of the Fuji circuit, I’m cautious to say it’s going to be an exciting race.

Oliver White

16 comments

  • Hi Oliver, Lewis didn’t fend anything he is very light I think, and of course he is a natural pole chaser!

    For me a gain of more than 0.7s between the 2 Q3 fast laps is impossible. If it happens it is because the first run was bad (Alonso is also in that case).

    So I bet 3 drivers are light on fuel : Kimi, Lewis and Fernando, two are a bit heavier Heikki and Massa.

    I do not believe Massa did really bad, I think he is disappointed because he thought with this load of fuel he could be no more than 3rd… and was beaten by Heikki and Fernando that he was not expecting to be on his way….

    My opinion is that Ferrari changed strategy this time and Kimi is going to be the hare while Felipe has covered himself for an (un)expected safety car…

    Results tomorrow? if no SC out before end of first stint??? 😉

  • After seeing that Pole position lap it was worth staying up for 2 nights, I dont think Lewis is that light, I think he just `nailed it`, watching some of the onboard the Ferrari looked like it was a handful to drive, and tyre wear will be an issue for them, Unless it rains I cant see a safety car being deployed because of the huge run off area`s and Kimi will go into turn 1 in front even if he takes Lewis out with him. Cant wait, it`s going to be a great race.

  • If being in pole by 0.240s is “nailed” then what verb do you use when Massa was 0.67s in front a couple of weeks ago in Singapore? “crucified” maybe 😉

    Quali these days is more about fuel load than anything else…All drivers in Q3 improved their times -between their 1st and 2nd fast laps in Q3- by more than 0.2s the fuel consumption in 3 laps -yes there are 3 laps between two fast laps- accounts easily for 0.2s in Fuji.

    That is not to say Lewis had a poor qualification he had a great one but I do believe it’s a fuel strategy choice that explains that… and the fact that he improved of 0.7s between his laps 1 and 2 that added that extra feeling it was “nailing”… But I might be wrong… it’s a guess not a fact.

  • Touche…it was a crucifying lap and no mistaking. Working on 10kg disadvantages by 4 tenths, and gives you 3 laps, Mcl and Fer will pit within 2 laps of each other, if Fer pit first then it will be an even better lap than we thought. But then again its not the first time ive spoken outta the side of me neck 😉 . Alonso will be the one to watch, he will driving like he`s just nicked it.

  • It goes to show what a fine line it is between getting it right or not, perhaps Massa`s MoJo was lost after the Lollipop was brought down ( not that he stopped ) after the box full of neutral`s pit release…Mirror…Signal….Manoeuvre….whats Sutil doing there.

  • Mirror…Signal….Manoeuvre….whats Sutil doing there.

    I didn’t catch which driver it was who was coming down the pitlane during Massa’s fumbled stop, but was it seriously Sutil again!? What is it with those two teams and the pitlane?

  • No I think it looked like a Mclaren, sorry I couldn`t resist ;-)….but thinking about it the finishing order would of been different if it was a Mclaren

  • Let me tell you what I see:

    I am comparing the times in Q2 and Q3 for the top 10:

    -4 drivers improved between 0.911-1.048s (bracket 0.137s)

    Hamilton/Raikkonen/Alonso/Kubica

    -4 improved improved between 1.448-1.587 (bracket 0.139s)

    Massa/Kovalainen/Trulli/Glock

    -2 drivers increased between 1.924-2.065s (bracket 0.141s)

    Vettel/Bourdais

    And between each group there is 0.5s so 3 times more than what separates the drivers within in their respective groups…

    You might call that coincidence I call it differently 😉

    0.5s is roughly 10-12kg that to me is 3-4 laps.

    Tomorrow if there is no incident before the first pit stop we will see if this is coincidence or fuel load difference.

    I’ll bet a tenner on that, say… 75% success? (3/4 of drivers stopping as I suggest)

  • Results tomorrow? if no SC out before end of first stint?

    I want Kimi to win. But only after a long battle with Hamilton that doesn’t end in the stewards’ office. And I don’t want Lewis to win because I would prefer him to stay closer to Massa to extend the championship right down to the final lap at Interlagos.

    But… I think Hamilton might take the victory. He may be light, but he is in a good car with a team that know to make a pitstop work. He also has his team mate close by to interrupt Ferrari advances.

  • He may be light, but he is in a good car with a team that know to make a pitstop work. He also has his team mate close by to interrupt Ferrari advances.

    agreed on the first point, but kovi will likely be 8th or worse by the end of the first lap. he’s as good as useless to hamilton.

  • sorry for all the mistakes in my previous post! All measures were in increase of time as from Q2-Q3 you add fuel so loose time 😉

    I want Felipe to stay close to Lewis as I would like to see this title to go to the last race.

    I must say I feel for Felipe: He’s done a good job, he’s made a lot of progress, and he doesn’t speak or act as if he was ruling the world… And he’s got his share of bad luck.

    Kimi annoys me in the end! I was so pleased last year and I hoped the title will change him! I knew it was not going to be a dramatic change, but something was to happen,,, but didn’t!

    Sometimes even when he wins a race I have the feeling I am more happy than he is!

    Lewis has plenty of time and Felipe might not have that many opportunitie…. Like Blundell on ITV names the driver of the race, I believe Felipe is the driver of the year, that’s why I think he deserves a title. Nice chap, quick driver, improved a lot.. yep to me that fits the bill 😉

  • After many hours of what if`s, Iam still not sure, that huge run in to the first corner could produce 20 million outcomes (not that this is different from any other race), but I keep getting this feeling Alonso`s not two times WDC for nothing, he`s got the sensible head to avoid the potential crash-fest that could occur at turn 1 and capatilise.

  • I’m not saying Alonso doesn’t have outright pace with what I’m about to say, because he has, but I’m just covering my bases…

    he`s got the sensible head to avoid the potential crash-fest that could occur at turn 1 and capatilise.

    That quality helped him win two titles. Hamilton could have learned a lot from Alonso had they got along better.

  • True ,shame they ended up like opposing magnets. When the 2007 season begun I thought to myself `Dont do a Micheal Andretti” who was dropped before the end of the season ( I thought the same for Jenson and what an opening lap that was at Aus,but the Monaco lifestyle got the better of him ), by race three I was putting money on him to win the WDC, and I thought to myself `Ye of little faith` whatever your `team` or whatever driver that you follow, there`s a Tiger Woods about him, or even a Senna……Lewis Versus Bruno…….Now were talking 😉

  • Don’t want to “nail it” but it looks like my refueling estimations were pretty good. There were 3 groups of pilots and they refuled as I “predicted”.

    KUB-ALS-RAI on lap 18

    TRL on 22 (+4)

    VTL 24 BRD 25 (+3,+4)

    Only Hamilton and Massa are not quite what I expected because of the accident on lap 1 for Lewis.

    So I believe maybe Felipe changed his race strategy knowing -at that point- Lewis was way behind. The proof? 11s stop on lap 19 + next top on lap 54 (other pitted around 46 (Kubica) 48(Kimi)

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