Brendon Hartley was left feeling emotional after recording his best Formula 1 qualifying result in Suzuka on Saturday after a "build-up of crap over the last six months" through recurring questions about his future with Toro Rosso.

Hartley managed to lead Toro Rosso to its best qualifying result of the season as he reached Q3 for the second time, going two places better than his run to P8 on the grid in Hungary by securing sixth for the start of the Japanese Grand Prix.

COTA #2 - Tremendous Turn 1

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It marked the first time Hartley had outqualified Toro Rosso teammate Pierre Gasly - who will start seventh - since the Canadian Grand Prix in June, and came at a time when the New Zealander is fighting to retain his seat with the team in F1 for 2019.

"Honestly, that felt awesome. It was quite emotional on the in lap, which is not something that normally happens to me," Hartley said.

"But it was just all the build-up of crap over the last six months and knowing that I’ve got better and better, but haven’t always had the chance to show it or things haven’t gone my way, strategy in races haven’t been in my favour if I’ve been the tailing car, or missing out in qualifying to Pierre. Today felt good.

"Obviously it’s only half the job, but I’m going to try and enjoy it for a small moment. There’s been a build-up of frustration over the last few months as I’ve got better and better, and I have been strong. There’s things that have happened behind the scenes that I could always talk about or reasons that things haven’t gone my way.

"Today it came together. I’m very happy."

Hartley said he was not treating either his qualifying result or the chance in Sunday's race as being decisive in his future, instead focusing on just doing the best job he possibly can.

"I think tomorrow I need to deliver and score some points, obviously what’s controllable from my side," Hartley said.

"I feel in a good place, and like I’ve been saying for the last months, I feel like I’m getting stronger and stronger, and there has been a frustration that things haven’t come together in the way I felt they maybe deserved to. But today feels good.

"I’m not thinking about next year, if that’s what you’re asking. I’m just maintaining the stance of focusing on the job right now. The next thing on my mind is getting a great start tomorrow lunchtime."

Both Toro Rosso drivers were aided by the first qualifying use of Honda's 'Spec 3' power unit at the Japanese manufacturer's home event, without which Hartley doubted the team would have been able to reach Q3.

"Definitely we have a big thank you to say to Honda. There’s no question mark that brought performance today, and it will in the race tomorrow," Hartley said.

"The exact [gain] number, I don’t know. A lot of media outlets have been quoting half a second, I don’t know if that’s true or not. In any case, I don’t think we would be fighting for Q3 without the update. We’ve just been hanging off the back of Q3 for a while now, apart from Budapest in mixed conditions. The midfield battle is so tight that any gain Honda could give us is very valuable, and that proved itself today.

"To deliver in front of all the Honda and Japanese fans was pretty special. I know it’s only half the job, but I’m sure we made a lot of people happy today with that performance. Obviously now we’ll work hard tonight and get the best out of it tomorrow."

GASLY: P5 WAS POSSIBLE

On the other side of the Toro Rosso garage, Pierre Gasly was left frustrated after feeling he could not only have outqualfied Hartley but also Haas driver Romain Grosjean, who finished three-tenths of a second clear as the fastest midfield driver in P5.

"For the team I think it’s unbelievable, the best qualifying of the season for Toro Rosso and Honda and to do it in Suzuka is probably the best time of the year so I’m really happy about that," Gasly said.

"For me I’m just a bit disappointed because P5 was possible with the issues we had in P2 and P3 we could not run the engine as aggressive as Brendon, and I lost 0.2s or 0.3s on my fastest lap which is more or less the gap that we missed compared to Grosjean.

"P5 was possible, which would have been best of the rest which is always nice on a track from a driver point of view, but still P7 I think is the second or third best qualifying for me so I’m still happy."

Gasly's charge to seventh on the grid came following a loss of running in FP2 due to a fuel cell issue and some struggles in FP3 that meant he went into qualifying unsure of his chances.

"Honestly it has been a pretty extreme weekend for me in terms of emotions," Gasly said.

"From FP1 I thought ‘OK this is going to be a great weekend’, then in FP2 I thought ‘oh shit, it’s not really going my way’, then in P3 it was still not going my way and was a bit difficult because I didn’t have good preparation.

"But in the end the team made great calls with the timing in qualifying, managed to get some extra performance in qualifying to get that qualifying result. So it’s a big opportunity.

"Every time we’ve had some this year we’ve managed to make it work, so this has to be the target tomorrow. To have a highlight in Suzuka with the Honda engine would really be something special so we need to stay focused for tomorrow."

 

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