Record lap gives Hamilton first-ever Suzuka pole

Championship leader Lewis Hamilton set a new lap record en-route to his first-ever Suzuka pole position on Saturday in qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix, while rival Sebastian Vettel was third quickest, but will start on the front row as Valtteri Bottas has a five-place grid penalty.

Hamilton dominated qualifying for Mercedes and was quickest in Q1, Q2 and the all-important top-ten shootout.

In the end he managed a 1 minute 27.345 second lap, to leave him 0.332secs up on team-mate Bottas and 0.472secs up on Vettel’s Ferrari. It was Hamilton’s 10th pole of the season and the 71st of his career.

“It has been a really good day and every lap was fantastic,” Hamilton said. “I’ve never ever really got a great balance here in the past and never did great in qualifying, and so to finally get the balance behind me, with the great work of my engineers and the great timing from all the mechanics, I felt I had to make it stick today.

“The car is crazy!”

“It is going to be a different view [starting from pole],” he added. “I have never really had this view here. We have worked hard for the car to hopefully work well in the race. It is always harder here once you get to the race – those S-curves really kill the tyres.

“I am hoping we are in a good position for that and naturally the Ferraris will be rapid as they always are, but the plan is to keep them behind.”

Meanwhile, Bottas was second fastest, despite his crash in final practice and despite a massive moment in Q1 at Degner He will drop back five places, however, after an unscheduled gearbox change.

“It has been a really difficult weekend and obviously I went off this morning but the guys did a great job getting the car back together. My driving was really getting better in qualifying. I think there was still something to be found,” Bottas stated.

With Bottas slipping back, Vettel is promoted to second alongside his Championship protagonist, but the Ferraris didn’t have the pace to match the Mercs.

“Qualifying has been quite good to be honest. I am reasonably happy. I tried everything on the last run and I had to take a bit more risk, but it didn’t work. I ran out of track at the exit of the S-curves, but I knew even if Valtteri did get passed we would still be on the front row [because of his penalty],” Vettel explained.

“I would love to have been a bit quicker, but quite amazing with the new cars around here. Love the track and it has been a special day.”

Behind, Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen ended up fourth and fifth, both Red Bulls more than half a second off the Ferrari of Vettel – but split by just 0.026secs.

Kimi Raikkonen recovered from his crash in FP3 to end the day sixth for Ferrari, but is another with a five-place penalty as his off necessitated a gearbox change.

Force India’s Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez were then seventh and eighth, ahead of Felipe Massa’s Williams and Fernando Alonso’s McLaren-Honda.

Perez, however, is under investigation after holding up Lance Stroll in Q1, so could yet get a penalty (the stewards later ruled no action was necessary), while Alonso will start last due to a 35-place grid penalty after the team had to fit a new power unit.

Further back, Stoffel Vandoorne finished Q2 in P11 in his McLaren-Honda, 0.029secs off the sister car of Alonso. Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg and Haas F1’s Kevin Magnussen took 12th and 13th with the Renault of Jolyon Palmer and Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz 14th and 15th. Palmer and Sainz, however, both have 20-place grid penalties for power unit changes.

As for Q1, Romain Grosjean brought out the red flags after losing it through the S-curves. The Haas F1 pilot walked away fine, but ended the opening part of qualifying just on the wrong side of the cut-off in P16.

Pierre Gasly was then 17th in his Toro Rosso – ahead of his second F1 grand prix – followed by Williams’ Stroll and the Sauber’s of Marcus Erisson and Pascal Wehrlein in 18th, 19th and 20th.

Full qualifying times available – HERE.

Picture credit: Pirelli

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