Cresting the right-handed Turn Six rise with a deep, dominant and high-torque-sounding blast, tyres biting hard at the dark grey Tarmac below, the Mercedes W07 and driver at the wheel are working hard.
Keeping a tight line on the exit as the road dips, the Silver Arrow follows the shortest route, straightens not even a yard, immediately swinging left and uphill into the long and crucial ‘S’ number seven known as Dunlop corner.
Beautifully smooth so far, left-foot braking as the throttle pedal is delicately worked, the Mercedes power unit purring a powerful tune of up and down but never off-throttle application, Nico Rosberg and his ride are serene in their progress.
Power now harder on, Rosberg is keen to straighten the car and leave the turn behind.
Slip, slide, throttle off, steering wheel violently jerked to the right as a tiny amount of opposite lock is applied. Lap time gone. That was it. The blink of an eye and pole position is lost. In less than half a second the German has blown it after being dominant all weekend. Lewis Hamilton has control now.
Shooting qualifying at the most special section of this wonderful race track, I’ve looked forward to this Saturday afternoon at Suzuka all year.
The genius of the quickest of the quick is smoothness. When I was a boy my father encouraged me to appreciate the deft touch and silky steering and throttle applications of some of the greats. Stewart, Prost and Lauda were particularly lauded on annual F1 trips to Brands Hatch and Silverstone, and every available minute of season-long television coverage too! With dismissive disdain my father castigated rock-ape, dirt-shifting thuggishness of the sort ‘enjoyed’ by such as Gilles Villeneuve. I will never forget watching Zandvoort ’79 and my father’s rant..
Of course it’s every racing driver’s desire to get through any given corner as fast as is humanly, mechanically and aerodynamically possible; and, granted, that often means F1 cars look spectacular as they push boundaries to the limit. Suzuka’s Turns Three through Seven aren’t like that. Tracing a sinewy, side-winding snake-like route, nestled against the edge of a hillside, this impeccable complex of corners is, for the purist, the stand-out location of the season. If you’re entertained by lowest-common-denominator sideways tyre-smoke inducement of the kind practiced by TV car show buffoons, then this place is surely not for you!
Five minutes to go and it’s crunch time. Japanese grand prix Q3 final run time.
Pressure ramped up to 11, the two Mercedes antagonists are locked in their own private duel for grid slot number one.
Nico flashes across the line to start his lap. Turn One, Two, Three, Four and Five all taken with minimal fuss. Bursting into view through Six, knowing of his run-one mistake, Rosberg is sure not to make the same error. Clean out of Six, throttle open, keeping the revs high, gentle squeezing of the brake pedal to stay on line, Silver Arrow number 6 is going well. Steeply uphill left now, Nico is into Seven. Beautifully applying ever more power in a smooth and linear roar of revs, there’s no lift this time.
“Nailed it,” I shout, much to the confusion of the orange-suited marshals standing to my right!
One minute and ten seconds later ROS flashes to number one.
Rosberg is buzzing and so am I. Special memories that I wish more of you could share.
My dad would enjoy the Suzuka esses.