FORMULA 1

Lewis Hamilton takes pole for Japanese F1 GP with Sebastian Vettel ninth | Sport

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Lewis Hamilton took pole for the Japanese Grand Prix with his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas in second and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in third. Hamilton’s title rival Sebastian Vettel was ninth fastest (though will start from eighth) after Ferrari made a mistake in selecting their tyres for the final runs in qualifying, when intermittent rain was making the track conditions at Suzuka difficult. Kimi Räikkönen was in fourth with Romain Grosjean (Haas) in fifth.

Hamilton took pole with his first lap in Q3 and a time of 1min 27.760. He has been on top all weekend and Mercedes called his tyres correctly when it mattered in the final moments. With Vettel starting down the grid the German driver’s hopes of closing the gap to Hamilton in the world championship look to be increasingly forlorn.

1 Lewis Hamilton (GB) Mercedes 1min 27.760sec
2 Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Mercedes 1:28.059
3 Max Verstappen (Neth) Red Bull 1:29.057

4 Kimi Räikkönen (Fin) Ferrari 1:29.521; 5 Romain Grosjean (Fr) Haas 1:29.761; 6 Brendon Hartley (NZ) Toro Rosso 1:30.023; 7 Pierre Gasly (Fr) Toro Rosso 1:30.093; 8 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Ferrari 1:32.192; 9 Sergio Pérez (Mex) Force India 1:37.229; 10 Charles Leclerc (Mon) Sauber 1:29.864; 11 Esteban Ocon* (Fr) Force India 1:30.126; 12 Kevin Magnussen (Den) Haas 1:30.226; 13 Carlos Sainz (Sp) Renault 1:30.490; 14 Lance Stroll (Can) Williams 1:30.714, 15 Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Red Bull No Time; 16 Nico Hülkenberg (Ger) Renault 1:30.361; 17 Sergey Sirotkin (Rus) Williams 1:30.372; 18 Fernando Alonso (Sp) McLaren 1:30.573; 19 Stoffel Vandoorne (Bel) McLaren 1:31.041; 20 Marcus Ericsson (Swe) Sauber 1:31.213.

*Ocon penalised three places for a red-flag infringement during practice

“The call we made to go out in Q3 is probably the most difficult call,” said Hamilton. “You saw all of us fumbling and trying to figure out what to do, [but] the team were spot on with it and it gave us an opportunity to grab this pole position.”

Rain had begun to fall in the final minutes of the second session but the track had dried by the final shoot out. Ferrari opted to send both drivers out on the intermediate tyres but immediately had to switch them back to the supersoft rubber. It proved a costly error.

Vettel was unable to set a good time on his first run on the slick tyres however, as the rain had just begun again and the track had been at its driest when the Ferraris were on the intermediate tyres. He went wide at Spoon and could manage only ninth, and with the rain beginning to fall again properly the times could not improve.

Vettel went off at the second Degner on his second run and Hamilton’s first lap proved more than enough to secure pole. He was backed for a front-row lockout for Mercedes, their second in a row, by Bottas who also set his quickest lap in Q3 at the first attempt. Vettel will start from eighth on the grid, though, after Esteban Ocon received a three-place grid penalty for a red flag infringement in practice.

Vettel was at pains not apportion blame to the paddock, insisting only that it was “our call”. But after a series of errors, he admitted they would have to consider where Ferrari were going wrong.

Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel kicks up grass after spinning during qualifying at Suzuka.



Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel kicks up grass after spinning during qualifying at Suzuka. Photograph: Clive Mason/Getty Images

“I don’t think there was that much missing,” he said. “We have been on the wrong side a couple of times but I don’t think there has been an awful big gap. If others did something better, then we need to know why.”

The Ferrari team principal, Maurizio Arrivabene, was far more scathing in his assessment. “From the way things were done, I do not think that pole position was within our reach, but what happened today is unacceptable,” he said.

“I am very angry. It is not the first time that these mistakes have occurred. I do not feel like pointing my fingers at someone in particular, but I’m very disappointed.”

Hamilton’s eighth pole of the season is only his second at Suzuka. He converted pole to a win here last year but scored his previous two poles in Japan when the race was held at Fuji. He has four wins at the Japanese Grand Prix, one at Fuji and three at Suzuka, the latter all with Mercedes who have yet to be beaten here during the turbo-hybrid era.

It is his 80th career pole and continues a run of form that has seen him claim a dominant position in the championship. He has won five of the last six races and taken four of the last six poles. Vettel in contrast has not secured the top spot since the German Grand Prix. Hamilton leads Vettel by 50 points in the world championship with five races remaining and if he can convert this into another win, the title will be almost within his grasp.

Hamilton topped a one-two for the team in first and second practice and again on Saturday morning, where they had looked ominously strong. Ferrari had been off the pace, Vettel was almost a second back on Friday, although he reduced the gap to just one-tenth in FP3. They proved unable to match Mercedes in pace or strategically when it mattered however.

Hamilton’s pole position will give him the best possible opportunity from which to impose his will on the race. He has been in fine form all weekend, expressing how much he was enjoying driving the unique challenge of the figure of eight track. Yet again the race will likely be run as a one-stopper for the leaders, making track position paramount.

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Hamilton was quickest in the first session, three tenths up on Vettel. In Q2, Bottas was slightly quicker, three-hundredths quicker than Hamilton with Vettel in third. Hamilton however set his time on the harder, more durable soft tyres with which he will start the race allowing him to go longer on his opening stint.

With what appears to be a definitive pace advantage, Hamilton and Mercedes look in every position to exploit a dominant performance in qualifying.

Both Toro Rosso cars made it into Q3 with Brendon Hartley and Pierre Gasly in sixth and seventh. The Force Indias of Ocon and Sergio Pérez were in eighth and 10th. Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo reported a loss of power in Q2 and was unable to set a time, finishing in 15th to extend a horror run for the Australian.

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