Esteban Gutierrez was the first man out on track to set a flying lap in qualifying on Saturday, but when he returned to the pits and was wheeled back into the team garage, the back of his car was engulfed in a brief but spectacular burst of flame as fuel vapour ignited on hot bodywork.

"We did have a fire during Q1 from some unburnt fuel, which meant we had to change our plans slightly, but there was no damage to the car and we were able to continue," reported Tom McCullough, Sauber's head of track engineering.

The blaze did indeed prove not only brief but also superficial causing only minimal cosmetic damage to the back of the car, with Gutierrez getting a chance to demonstrate just how well he can meet the five second extraction time from the cockpit of the car.

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"Regarding the fire, I just saw it and jumped out," he said. "The guys had everything under control and I was relieved that I was able to continue my qualifying."

Gutirrez was able to put in a faster lap in Q1 to put him through to the next stage of qualifying, and he will line up on the grid in 14th position for the start of Sunday's Grand Prix.

"We are not as competitive as on previous tracks," he admitted. "I was just two tenths slower than Nico in Q2. This is the first time for me driving on this track and I pushed right to the limit.

"We put a good lap together and now I have to stay optimistic for tomorrow, as I think we have a good pace in the long runs," he insisted. "Points are not easy, but we will do our best."

His team mate Nico Hulkenberg was successful in extending the team's run of top ten appearances that extends all the way back to Monza where Hulkenberg himself started the Italian GP from third place.

"We knew we could fight for the top ten today, but P7 is a nice surprise," said Hulkenberg. "It was very tight, everything had to fall into place and I think we managed to do that.

"Compared to yesterday, the wind changed so we had a tail wind on the straights and this makes you really quick," he pointed out. "That means we have a head wind in sector one, which gives you a lot of grip. It was so much fun to put a really good lap together in Q3. I am very happy. Clearly tomorrow we'll be aiming for points!"

Team principal Monisha Kaltenborn added that she was happy with the team's showing at Suzuka so far.

"Nico again did a fantastic job and is in a good position to score points tomorrow," she said. "Esteban also did a great job on a track that was new to him, and it is impressive how he has improved over the weekend while learning such a difficult track. The difference for him to be 11th was not even a tenth.

"All in all an exceptional qualifying and we are hoping for points tomorrow," she added, echoing the earlier thoughts of her drivers.