Lewis Hamilton has beaten his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas to take pole position for the Japanese Grand Prix. The four times champion was easily in a class of his own, taking his eighth pole position by going two tenths faster than Bottas and topping all three sessions.
Hamilton excelled as he always does in wet/dry conditions topping all three sessions and will be in the best position to extend his lead over championship rival Sebastian Vettel, following the disastrous session for Ferrari with him only ninth.
Hamilton and Bottas were both unable to improve on their second runs as the weather turned. Max Verstappen was third for Red Bull after Ferrari made a hugely costly error, the Dutchman has always excelled in wet conditions.
Hamilton said, “The team have done an amazing job and the call we made for Q3 was probably the most difficult as we were fumbling around but we manage to grab pole.”
“It was an anti-climax since we didn’t do a final lap. It’s my 80th pole, we work so hard to define this car and the strategy, and its such an honour to race for Mercedes and the guys in the team”
Verstappen said “Normally, we would be close to Ferrari but it’s hard to beat them. I didn’t expect to start third and now we have a bigger chance to be on the podium. Is the championship still a battle? I’m not sure.
While Vettel struggled it was his teammate Kimi Raikkonen who reacted better in the changeable conditions. Vettel went straight out in Q3 on the intermediates, while Mercedes went for supersofts. That decision proved key, as conditions soon deteriorated as the Ferraris switched to supersofts.
That response wasn’t enough, as both Ferrari’s ran wide at the Spoon curve, but Raikkonen only just, and he did a time fast enough for fourth behind Verstappen. Vettel went off much further and his time was good enough only for ninth, four seconds off pole.
Vettel said, “The first run was ok, I had a mistake in Spoon so I lost some time there but the second run we didn’t make it out on time because the rain came down.”
“It’s not the position we deserve to be in, we have better speed than ninth, but tomorrow is a new day, it’s not easy when you start further back but it’s not impossible.”
It was a good afternoon for the Haas’s of Romain Grosjean, best of the rest in fifth. The Frenchman two seconds off the pace, but out-qualified both Toro Rosso’s of Brendon Hartley and Pierre Gasly. The New Zealander out qualifying his teammate by seven-tenths of a second.
The pace shown by Toro Rosso shows that Hondas upgraded engine has delivered a step up in performance. Honda’s step up must cause pain for McLaren, the team having their worst qualifying of the season.
It was another session where Charles Leclerc was unlucky, the Sauber driver missed out on Q3 by two-tenths of a second. He sent his Sauber into a spin at the first Degner, leaving him unable to improve. That, however, kept him ahead of the Haas of Kevin Magnussen.
Renault’s Carlos Sainz was thirteenth ahead of the Williams of Lance Stroll. Daniel Ricciardo was fifteenth, the Red Bull driver failed to set a time in Q2 because of an engine problem.
Marcus Ericsson proved the drama of the session, the Sauber driver ran wide at the final S Curve, got onto the grass and spun into the wall causing a red flag.
Following the red flag, three drivers were yet to set a time. Nico Hulkenberg, was lucky to make it out following an off in FP3 damaging his rear wing, floor and suspension but ultimately he was only able to go sixteenth fastest.
Another disastrous afternoon for McLaren saw both Stoffel Vandoorne and Fernando Alonso slowest of all.