Hamilton roars to Japan pole, horror show for Vettel

Tanya Simon
October 7, 2018

The Formula One championship leader pushed his Mercedes to a time of one minute, 29.599 seconds, just over a tenth quicker than Ferrari rival Sebastian Vettel after a typhoon downpour had forced all 20 cars to dive back into the Suzuka pits.

"This team was just spot on with it and gave us the opportunity to grab this pole position", he continued.

The German recovered to finish sixth after spinning to the back of the field when he collided with Red Bull's Max Verstappen trying an ambitious move for third place into the hard Spoon Curve.

Vettel trails his fellow four-times champion by 50 points in the standings with just four races left after Japan.

The Briton, victor of five of the last six races had always been favourite for pole having dominated practice but Vettel had looked competitive until the botched tyre choice.

But behind him, there was action aplenty, much of it focused on Vettel.

The poor planning could have still been rescued, but a further mistake by Vettel on his first hot lap made Ferrari's problems even worse as the rain did eventually arrive.

And he drove well in the early laps.

Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen was fourth in Japan, ahead of Haas driver Romain Grosjean.

Verstappen left a tiny space as Vettel dived up the inside, but the German was imprecise and clattered into the Dutchman.

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Team boss Maurizio Arrivabene was more critical, saying Ferrari had made an "unacceptable" blunder in the final phase of qualifying.

It spun Vettel around, Verstappen able to catch his auto and continue in third - albeit with a five-second penalty to serve for his collision with Raikkonen. "I want to say thank you to everyone back at the factory".

The Red Bull has shown strong performance compared to Ferrari over both one lap and a race distance, but while drivers love the high-speed challenge that Suzuka provides, the need for good downforce makes it hard to follow another auto and therefore overtake.

After a virtual safety auto, called after Leclerc pulled off with a mechanical failure, Bottas began to run into blistering problems with his tyres.

For Hamilton and Bottas enjoyed an nearly serene run from the front row to the flag, although Bottas was pressured by Verstappen at the death. Verstappen was subsequently given a five-second penalty for not returning to the track safely.

"Keep him [Bottas] under pressure, keep it clean". As a result, he ended up qualifying in ninth place.

But during that excitement, Mercedes calmly made their way into the top 10 shoot-out using the soft compound tyre, compared to rivals Ferrari and Red Bull who opted to advance on the supersofts.

Shout-out to Toro Rosso - great effort from them to start P6 (Brendon Hartley, securing his best-ever result in F1 qualifying) and P7 (Pierre Gasly).

Driver of the day Tricky one, this.

He finished 11th in the race on that occasion, unable to better the 10th-place finishes he had at the Azerbaijan and German Grands Prix this year.

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