SUZUKA (Japan) • The cart-wheeling Red Bull of Daniil Kvyat brought qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix to an abrupt and spectacular end in Suzuka yesterday.
At a Formula One circuit filled with bad memories from last season, when Jules Bianchi was severely injured in a crash - which would, nine months later, lead to his death - the sight of the young Russian's car smashing into the barriers was dramatic and frightening enough to put hearts in mouths, momentarily.
Suzuka is an extraordinary circuit, fast and tricky and demanding the ultimate courage from the drivers. Bianchi lost his life as the result of freak conditions and appalling luck but Kvyat, 21, was more fortunate as he emerged from the wreckage of his Red Bull, which lost both its nearside wheels after it smashed into the barrier, flipped and then landed back on its floor.
"Are you okay, Dani?" his pit wall asked anxiously. Once there was reassurance that all was well, attention turned to the timing screens, which were now showing red and the premature end of the session with 36sec remaining on the clock.
They also showed that whatever woes afflicted Mercedes in Singapore last weekend were emphatically banished in Suzuka, as Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg locked out the front row of the grid.
JAPANESE GP GRID
Nico Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes
Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes
Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Williams Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Ferrari
Felipe Massa (Bra) Williams
Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari
Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Red Bull Romain Grosjean (Fra) Lotus
Sergio Perez (Mex) Force India Daniil Kvyat (Rus) Red Bull
14 Fernando Alonso (Esp) McLaren
15 Max Verstappen (Ned) Toro Rosso
16 Jenson Button (Gbr) McLaren
F1 JAPANESE GRAND PRIX
Singtel TV Ch114 & StarHub Ch208, 12.30pm
The key alteration was a fightback by Rosberg, who snatched pole position by just 0.1sec from his team-mate, a first pole for the German in five months.
It has taken a lot to puncture Hamilton's season of fast qualifying laps. The Englishman has taken 11 poles this season, yet in Suzuka he is off the top spot for the second grand prix in succession.
Reality returned in Suzuka on a fast track that plays to the strengths of the powerful Mercedes hybrid engine and Vettel, winner in Singapore for the fourth time, is fourth on the grid.
There was also no surprise, then, that Williams, with Mercedes power, could capitalise and Valtteri Bottas will start his white car from third.
Rosberg told his German fans that this was "ein gutes comeback", which means he believes he now has a chance to cut into Hamilton's 41-point lead over him in the world championship.
"Happy birthday, mum!" Rosberg said in German after securing only his second pole of the year. "That's a birthday present for you. At times I had the perfect car and I pretty much nailed my laps. Obviously it's a great comeback for the team after Singapore."
Hamilton was curiously subdued on and off the circuit, but one can never underestimate the ability of the world champion to mount his own comeback.
He did it last year in Suzuka after Rosberg took pole, going home with the winner's trophy, and the bookies will not be keen to bet against him.
"Definitely the car feels like normal this weekend, which is great to see," said the Briton. "I was enjoying the battle with Nico. It was a shame we didn't get to finish the last lap but I'm glad (Kvyat) is safe."
The greatest prayer will be for a safe race. Bianchi's death hangs over this sport, a memory too fresh to push to the far corners of the mind just yet.
THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE