That brought out the red flags and left several drivers frustrated as they were in the process of improving their best lap times in the closing second of the session.
Nico Rosberg has clinched pole position for the Japanese Grand Prix after pipping Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton in qualifying.
Next to Hamilton in qualifying was Valtteri Bottas of Williams followed by Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari in the fourth place and Felippe Massa of Williams in the fifth.
Daniil Kvyat will start from the pit lane for the Japanese Grand Prix as Red Bull Racing face a long night attempting to fix his heavily damaged RB11. Rosberg grabbed the pole at one minute and 32.584 seconds while Hamilton trailed behind at 1:32.660.
“On the first lap I lost a bit of time into Turn 11 and into the last corner”, Hamilton said.
Hamilton’s initial lap included a lock-up mistake at the hairpin which cost him significant time, so likely he would have surpassed Rosberg on their last run. “We didn’t want to take too many risks today, as there is no point in damaging the vehicle or the gearbox”. It was a great day and a good comeback for the team after a hard weekend in Singapore.
Vettel, who has now won as many races in his debut season with Ferrari as Michael Schumacher did in his first year at Maranello in 1996, told a separate news conference that he expected Mercedes to be faster in Suzuka.
There was early drama when Max Verstappen’s Toro Rosso rolled to a halt poking out dangerously across the track after breaking down with electrical trouble, costing him a grid demotion of three places.
Jenson Button has never qualified outside the top 10 in Japan – a grand prix he considers as his second home given his wife Jessica hails from these parts and his association with Honda – but the Briton, whose Formula One future remains shrouded in mystery, was knocked out at the first stage. We still have a small chance, maybe we can make the impossible possible; we’ll definitely go for it. “Again, it would be a big surprise”, said the German.
Kvyat said he was more concerned about the disappointment of setting his team back than any immediate pain he was feeling.
The Spaniard had been stranded in the pits earlier in the session because his vehicle had needed an engine change after a problem was found with the one he used in the first practice.
Then it was time for the final runs. The team will be hoping that rain, forecast to arrive on Sunday morning in Suzuka, outstays its welcome and stays for the race.