Japanese Grand Prix: Lewis Hamilton on pole, Sebastian Vettel to start second

Lewis Hamilton secured the 71st pole of his career, but his first at Suzuka
Lewis Hamilton secured the 71st pole of his career, but his first at Suzuka

Lewis Hamilton beat his title rival Sebastian Vettel in qualifying at the Japanese Grand Prix to take his 10th pole in 16 races this season.

Hamilton was 0.332 seconds quicker than Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas after two almost-perfect laps.

Ferrari's Vettel was 0.472secs off the pace but will start alongside Hamilton on the front row because Bottas received a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change.

Hamilton and Vettel will be battling on their own as the German's team-mate Kimi Raikkonen also drops down the grid after a penalty.

Sunday's race is live on BBC Radio 5 live and the BBC Sport website.

Vettel still has a chance

Raikkonen could manage only sixth quickest after crashing in final practice, an incident which damaged his gearbox and meant he also has a five-place grid penalty.

Briton Hamilton is 34 points ahead of Vettel with five races to go and 125 points still available, so the German could really do with beating Hamilton in the race to revive his faltering title hopes.

Hamilton said: "We have worked hard for the car to hopefully work well in the race. The Esses really kill the tyres. I am hoping we are in a good position for that. Naturally, the Ferraris will be rapid as they always are - but I plan to keep them behind."

Valtteri Bottas
Valtteri Bottas crashed heavily in final practice on a track which famously punishes the greatest drivers

Hamilton was 0.641 seconds clear of Bottas on his first run, in which he had a small lock-up at the Hairpin, but the Finn closed the gap on the final laps, when the three-time champion ran slightly wide at a couple of corners and improved by only 0.026secs.

His fastest lap was a new track record, beating the previous one set by Michael Schumacher in a Ferrari in 2006 by 1.635secs.

It was also, remarkably, his first pole position at the fabled Suzuka circuit.

"Super-excited," he said. "It's been 10 years trying to get that pole. Finally got it. I knew it would eventually come."

Vettel failed to improve at all on his second lap, running wide at the Esses trying to make up time on the dominant Mercedes.

"Maybe I was expecting a bit more from us," said Vettel. "I think we got closer throughout qualifying but overall we were just a bit too far behind."

Bottas recovered well after a crash in final practice, when he ran wide at the exit of Spoon Curve and clouted the wall, an encouraging improvement in form after a difficult run of races since F1 returned from its summer break at the end of August.

Ricciardo beats Verstappen

Daniel Ricciardo
Daniel Ricciardo is 84 points ahead of his team mate Max Verstappen

Daniel Ricciardo beat Red Bull team-mate Max Verstappen for the first time in seven races to take fifth ahead of the Force Indias of Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez, the Williams of Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso's McLaren.

Alonso displaced team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne in the top 10 shootout with his final lap in second qualifying, but the Spaniard will start from the back after a 35-place grid penalty for using more than the permitted number of engine parts.

He is one of several drivers with grid penalties. Renault driver Jolyon Palmer and Toro Rosso's Carlos Sainz were both hit with 20-place drops for engine usage.

Palmer qualified 14th, two places and 0.143secs off team-mate Nico Hulkenberg, one of the Englishman's best performances of the season. Sainz was 15th.

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Renault inflatable banana
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