Lewis Hamilton accepts blame for qualifying error

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Hamilton's qualifying incident

Lewis Hamilton said he was to blame for the error that cost him the chance to fight Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel for pole at the Japanese Grand Prix.

The McLaren driver did not leave enough time to start a second fastest lap.

"It was my mistake," he said. "I should have got out sooner but I was making a wing change and I went out too late."

Team boss Martin Whitmarsh said: "Lewis is being a bit hard on himself. We could have been explicit to him about time running out."

Hamilton was determined to have a positive weekend in Japan after a difficult race in Singapore, where he had clashed with Ferrari's Felipe Massa.

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Hamilton cagey on incident

But his performance in qualifying was the latest in a dispiriting list of costly mistakes by him and McLaren this season.

Hamilton had set the benchmark in the final phase of qualifying but when Vettel and his team-mate Jenson Button went out again to try to beat his time, Hamilton was not able to respond.

He tried to leave a gap to Button ahead of him to ensure his lap was not affected by turbulent air from the sister McLaren but in doing so got caught up fighting for position with Mark Webber's Red Bull and Michael Schumacher's Mercedes.

Only Webber was able to break clear of the other two to set a fastest lap, which was good enough for sixth.

"The car in front of me [Button] was quite close to me so I was trying to make sure I had a gap between me and the car in front," Hamilton, who qualified third, said.

"The two guys you saw come across the start line before me; I was entering the last corner and Mark came out of nowhere and nearly crashed with me so I had to avoid him.

"Michael was on the outside and went across the grass so that was an interesting moment. I couldn't get a lap after that.

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Schumacher questions Hamilton go-slow

"The team were telling me when I need to get a lap but it was not the team's decision, so it was my fault.

"I've been quick all weekend. I just had a lot of the yellow flags and wasn't putting the sectors together; I'd just not done a complete lap but in qualifying I did - until the last lap."

A subdued Hamilton was hesitant about saying whether the incident had cost him his first pole position since last season's Canadian Grand Prix, and the first for any other team other than Red Bull this season.

But Whitmarsh said the team members making strategy calls on the pit wall had to take some responsibility for the failure to turn genuine pace into grid position.

"In fairness to Lewis, we could have been more explicit to him about time running out," he added.

"It was very tight and people were trying to make gaps. It was a difficult situation.

"It's always a frustrating situation when you're not on pole, every race is the same, so this qualifying was only the same as what has gone before. I think we should be balanced about it."

Schumacher added: "It was a bit stupid in the last chicane; everyone was driving a bit slow and I knew I had to go through somehow.

"I had Webber in front who slowed down because Hamilton slowed down and it was tight for all three of us. I tried my best and Lewis pushed me a little bit onto the grass."

Button finished as Vettel's closest rival, crossing the line at Suzuka's figure-of-eight circuit just 0.009 seconds slower than the Red Bull.

His effort matched the closest previous qualifying session at Suzuka between Schumacher and McLaren's double world champion Mika Hakkinen 11 years ago.

Button and Vettel are the only two drivers left in the title fight, although Vettel can wrap up a second world title if Button fails to win in Suzuka or the German scores a point.

"Seb is going to clinch the title tomorrow but our aim is to beat him in the race," said Button.

"It's an exciting challenge and we can achieve that if everything goes right."