Formula 1

Nico Rosberg beats Hamilton to Japanese Grand Prix pole

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Nico Rosberg produced two excellent laps to beat team-mate Lewis Hamilton to pole position for the Japanese Grand Prix.

The German improved on both his Q3 runs to set a 1:32.506 nearly two tenths clear of the sister Mercedes. It was still a good effort by Hamilton to claim second particularly as his car was rebuilt on the front left corner following a crash late in the final practice session.

Williams asserted their place as best of the rest with Valtteri Bottas third and Felipe Massa just behind in fourth.

Red Bull disappoint

On a day of huge news at Red Bull, following Sebastian Vettel's announcement he will be leaving at the end of the year, the team struggled to match expectations with Daniel Ricciardo only sixth quickest with the four-time champion ninth.

It was a difficult qualifying throughout as the two drivers were unable to find the right balance with the RB10 and despite hopes they could take the challenge to Mercedes around the more aero-dependent Suzuka circuit, they actually find themselves over one-and-a-half seconds slower than their German rivals.

Indeed such is the poor pace both Vettel and Ricciardo were under pressure just to make the top 10, however, it is thought both cars are running with higher downforce and greater understeer ahead of the wet race on Sunday which may put them in a stronger position.

Fernando Alonso fifth

In between Ricciardo and the Williams was the man who always seems to qualify fifth, Fernando Alonso.

The Spaniard was never a threat to the Mercedes, as was anybody with a half second gap between Hamilton in second and Bottas in third, but the Ferrari driver at least made up for the troubles on the other side of the garage as Kimi Raikkonen was forced to change his engine after final practice and with an older, less powerful unit, the Finn could only manage 10th.

McLaren impress

In a session dominated by pairs, as five teams made the top 10, three teams from positions 11-16 and another three 17-22, McLaren were the stand out performers in my opinion with both Kevin Magnussen and Jenson Button making the final shootout.

On a track the team felt may not suit the MP4-29, it was Magnussen who just had the edge by less than a tenth of a second over Button as the pair claim seventh and eighth.

It marks another key victory for the Dane over the 2009 world champion and given the increased likelihood of an Alonso move, as many believe Vettel will join Ferrari, the battle for the second seat will be fierce between the current two drivers.

The balance of youth and experience may swing the bosses into Magnussen's favour and if he continues to beat Button then certainly it could be the Briton looking elsewhere for 2015.

Midfield battle

McLaren's big rivals for fifth in the Constructors' championship, Force India, endured a difficult day as both Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg failed to make the top 10.

Indeed the two drivers haven't look quick all weekend and will be hoping the wet race can benefit them on Sunday.

Toro Rosso looked a threat for the top 10 but both just missed out as Jean-Eric Vergne was 11th and Daniil Kvyat 13th.

For the Frenchman another victory over Kvyat, who will replace Vettel at Red Bull next year, will give some personal satisfaction, however whether it can help in his quest to stay in F1 next year remains to be seen.

Sauber overhaul Lotus

Towards the back Sauber enjoyed a victory over their nearest rivals Lotus as both Esteban Gutierrez and Adrian Sutil dumped Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado out in the first part of qualifying.

Though the Venezuelan beat his French team-mate on the track, he will start from the back of the grid as he uses a sixth Internal Combustion Engine. Maldonado will also have to carry over five of the ten places he was penalised to Sochi next week as he only drops five places from 17th to 22nd.

Ericsson leads the slower teams

Finally at the back it was Marcus Ericsson enjoying some rare success as the Swedish driver was quickest of the two Caterham's and two Marussia's.

The 21-year-old was the last man over the line as the led Jules Bianchi, who missed out on a final lap as he failed to cross the line before the chequered flag, Kamui Kobayashi and Max Chilton rounded out the grid.

Typhoon Phanfone awaits

Back at the front and looking ahead to Sunday's race only one thing is set to dominate proceedings: the weather.

As the typhoon approaches heavy rain is forecast pretty much all day at Suzuka and with it the likelihood for a disrupted race.

Indeed if the race does get underway it is thought most of it could take place behind the safety car such are the conditions expected, but if they do get racing then potentially Mercedes face their biggest test so far.

Red Bull and Williams will likely be much greater threats to the Silver Arrows, particularly as Red Bull appear to have gone more towards a wet set-up and also internally, regardless of the conditions, Hamilton and Rosberg still have a championship battle to fight for.

Therefore we are set for a wild and very unpredictable Japanese Grand Prix and so long as it doesn't rain too much, potentially a very exciting race at Suzuka.

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