Suzuka - World
champion Lewis Hamilton roared to pole position for the Japanese Grand
Prix as Ferrari rival Sebastian Vettel slumped to eighth after a horror
showing in Saturday's qualifying.
Lewis, who leads Vettel by 50 points with five races left this
season, led a Mercedes front-row lockout and will start as the hot
favourite to tighten his stranglehold on the Formula One championship in
Sunday's race at Suzuka.
The Briton's record-extending 80th career pole never looked in doubt
after his rampant form in completing a clean sweep of free practice
earlier in the day.
"I can't believe I have 80 poles," said Hamilton, who has won five of the last six races.
"Never in a million years did I think I'd get 80. When it comes to
being under pressure and making the right decisions, that's why we are
the best team in the world."
Ferrari's decision to begin the top-10 shootout on intermediate tyres
instead of super-softs backfired spectacularly as the rain they
expected held off just long enough for Hamilton to set a fastest lap of
one minute, 27.760 seconds - three-tenths quicker than team-mate
Vettel skidded off twice in his desperation to set a time and his
starting position will be his lowest of a season which began so brightly
but looks like ending in bitter disappointment.
"This is not the position we deserve to be in," insisted the German,
who had barely left the garage before informing Ferrari of their mistake
over team radio.
"I think we have better pace than ninth so I'm not
too worried," added Vettel, who was later bumped up to eighth after
Esteban Ocon incurred a three-place penalty for failing to slow
sufficiently for red flags during practice.
As Vettel's thin hopes of
pipping Hamilton to a fifth world championship faded still further, Red
Bull's Max Verstappen, who qualified third, declared the title race
Asked if he would look to have a say in the battle for the Formula
One crown, Verstappen smiled: "Is it even a battle anymore, I don't
Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen qualified alongside the Dutchman on the second row.
Romain Grosjean steered his Haas to fifth ahead of Brendon Hartley
and Pierre Gasly, who secured sixth and seventh on the grid for Toro
Rosso at the home of the team's engine suppliers Honda.
Meanwhile, there were more qualifying woes for Red Bull's Daniel
Ricciardo, who climbed out of his car and yelled an expletive into his
helmet after suffering a mechanical breakdown.
"I lost power as soon as I went to start the lap," said the Australian.
"I could feel the car was jumping around, it didn't feel healthy.
It's just frustrating - I've cooled down a little bit but it's pretty
painful. I just can't catch a break at the moment."
The Force Indias of Ocon and Sergio Perez qualified above and below
Vettel to complete the top 10, before Ocon's penalty dropped him to
11th, behind Charles Leclerc's Sauber.
Hamilton controversially took his eighth chequered flag of the season
at Sochi last weekend after Mercedes ordered Bottas to give up the
But he has dominated in Suzuka and a fifth victory in Japan would put him on course to clinch the title with races to spare.
Starting grid for the Japanese Grand Prix after qualifying on Saturday:
Lewis Hamilton (GBR/Mercedes), Valtteri Bottas (FIN/Mercedes)
Max Verstappen (NED/Red Bull-TAG Heuer), Kimi Raikkonen (FIN/Ferrari)
Romain Grosjean (FRA/Haas-Ferrari), Brendon Hartley (NZL/Toro Rosso-Honda)
Pierre Gasly (FRA/Toro Rosso-Honda), Sebastian Vettel (GER/Ferrari)
Sergio Perez (MEX/Force India-Mercedes), Charles Leclerc (MON/Sauber-Ferrari)
Esteban Ocon (FRA/Force India-Mercedes), Kevin Magnussen (DEN/Haas-Ferrari)
Carlos Sainz Jr (ESP/Renault), Lance Stroll (CAN/Williams-Mercedes)
Daniel Ricciardo (AUS/Red Bull-TAG Heuer), Nico Hulkenberg (GER/Renault)
Sergey Sirotkin (RUS/Williams-Mercedes), Fernando Alonso (ESP/McLaren-Renault)
Stoffel Vandoorne (BEL/McLaren-Renault), Marcus Ericsson (SWE/Sauber-Ferrari)