Ros­berg keeps squeeze on Hamil­ton with Ja­pan pole

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

Nico Ros­berg stormed to pole po­si­tion at the Ja­panese Grand Prix in a pul­sat­ing cli­max yes­ter­day’s qual­i­fy­ing, pil­ing yet more pres­sure on world ti­tle holder Lewis Hamil­ton.

The Ger­man, who has a 23-point lead over Hamil­ton in the For­mula One cham­pi­onship with five races to go, will start along­side his Bri­tish foe on the front row as the two Mercedes con­tin­ued to dom­i­nate in Suzuka.

Ros­berg has been quick­est all week­end with Hamil­ton forced to play sec­ond fid­dle after be­ing cru­elly robbed of vic­tory in Malaysia by a blown en­gine six days ago.

The triple world cham­pion asked ques­tions of his fierce ri­val, but Ros­berg showed nerves of steel to pro­duce a blis­ter­ing lap that pipped Hamil­ton by just 0.013s in a nail-bit­ing fin­ish to qual­i­fy­ing. Fer­rari’s Kimi Raikko­nen will start from third in Sun­day’s race, next to Dutch teenager Max Ver­stap­pen’s Red Bull.

“I knew I could do it. I just had to get my head down and nail it,” said Ros­berg after se­cur­ing his eighth pole of the year, the same num­ber as Hamil­ton. “The end of qual­i­fy­ing was pretty in­tense but I had a good feel­ing-I knew if I put in a de­cent lap then it should be enough,” added the Ger­man, whose slen­der edge over Hamil­ton was cal­cu­lated by Mercedes to work out to just 82 cen­time­tres.

“I still need to get the job done on the start to­mor­row, then race pace, strat­egy. We’re feel­ing good about it and we think we can be quick­est to­mor­row.”

RE­VER­SAL OF FOR­TUNE

Ros­berg, chas­ing his first win in Ja­pan and his fourth in his last five races, is hop­ing for a re­ver­sal of for­tune at Suzuka after fail­ing to con­vert pole into vic­tory in 2014 and 2015, both times los­ing out to Hamil­ton.

Mean­while, Se­bas­tian Vet­tel was fourth fastest for Fer­rari but a three-place grid penalty for a first-cor­ner crash with Ros­berg in Malaysia means he starts sev­enth.

Daniel Ric­cia­rdo, who in­her­ited vic­tory in Sepang after Hamil­ton’s mis­for­tune, lines up fifth ahead of Force In­dia’s Sergio Perez, while Vet­tel starts along­side Ro­main Gros­jean’s Haas on the fourth row. Nico Hulkenberg’s Force In­dia and the sec­ond Haas of Este­ban Gu­tier­rez rounded out the top 10. There was frus­tra­tion for McLaren in en­gine sup­plier Honda’s home race, how­ever, with Fer­nando Alonso start­ing on row eight and Jen­son But­ton one row be­hind after fail­ing to es­cape the first qual­i­fy­ing round.

Hamil­ton in­sisted he could still halt Ros­berg’s surg­ing mo­men­tum by win­ning Sun­day’s race, hav­ing done ex­actly that in Ja­pan the past two years. “I did as well as I could I think,” said Hamil­ton, who courted con­tro­versy this week by hint­ing his Malaysia heart­break may have been caused by sab­o­tage from within Mercedes.

“History has shown you don’t have to be on pole to get the win.”

The Bri­ton bris­tled when asked if he was too hard on his en­gines. “For peo­ple’s ref­er­ence there’s noth­ing wrong with my driv­ing style,” sniffed Hamil­ton. “I asked the team and it’s not the case, it never has been.” —AFP

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