The smiles on the Mercedes-GP pit wall at Suzuka told onlookers all they needed to know.
With the Williams pair of Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa claiming third and fifth on the grid to sandwich and split the Ferraris of Vettel and Raikkonen, the Finn says he is keen to make a good getaway in order to put the white machines behind him.
With rain washing out Friday’s two practice sessions, preparations for qualifying and racing in the dry had to be completed in the 60 minutes allocated for FP3 on Saturday morning but, despite the rush, Raikkonen was happy with the vehicle he had for qualifying and hopes to be a competitive on race day. Qualifying was next up and the trend continued with Mercedes not having a vehicle on pole position for the first time since June 2014, Sebastian Vettel ended up gaining the pole position with Daniel Ricciardo in second and Kimi Räikkönen in third.
That did not prevent the looks of joy from the senior staff at Mercedes, with the big grin on Niki Lauda’s face, the non-executive chairman of the team, as he shook hands with his colleagues, emphasising just how relieved they were to confirm that Singapore was an aberration.
With the Japanese Grand Prix being so close, Mercedes don’t have much time to work out the issues that occurred in Singapore and there are rumours that Jenson Button may choose to end his Formula One career.
“It’s fantastic after such a hard weekend in Singapore to be back to our usual strength today”, said the German. Mercedes were looking for damage limitation in the race and to see if they could get their speed back, to try to gain some positions on the podium; while all the other teams were looking to take advantage of the Mercs bad weekend. He could certainly do with a repeat of that here. Sebastian Vettel had the ideal weekend, Lewis Hamilton didn’t score a point, and suddenly there was a real contender emerging for the 2015 World Driver’s Championship, one wearing red, not silver.
Track position is crucial at Suzuka, with overtaking hard in dry conditions, which are forecast for the 53-lap race, but converting pole into the lead at the start is by no means a certainty for Rosberg.
The Grand Prix is to be run just after midnight EST tonight, and as with the vast majority of the season’s races, will air live on the NBC Sports Network in the United States. Barring mechanical problems or botched getaways at the start, the fight for the win should be a duel between Rosberg and Hamilton.