Motor racing: Hamilton storms to 80th pole in Japan as Mercedes lock out front row again, Vettel way back in 8th

Lewis Hamilton has won five of the last six races and is already in a position where he does not need to triumph again this year to clinch the title.
Lewis Hamilton has won five of the last six races and is already in a position where he does not need to triumph again this year to clinch the title.PHOTO: AFP

SUZUKA, JAPAN (REUTERS) - Lewis Hamilton timed his run to perfection in changing conditions to take a record-extending 80th pole position at the Japanese Grand Prix on Saturday (Oct 6), while Ferrari rival Sebastian Vettel qualified only eighth.

The Mercedes driver pumped in a 1min 27.760sec second lap on the super-soft tyres while it was still only spitting with rain.

Team mate Valtteri Bottas, who beat Hamilton to pole at the last race in Russia, guaranteed Mercedes a second successive front row lockout with a lap 0.299 of a second off the 33-year-old Briton's pace.

Ferrari, meanwhile, made the wrong tyre choice and were then caught out when the rain then came down more heavily, preventing anyone from improving on their times.

"It's so difficult when the pressure is on to make the right call but that's the big difference between us this year and that's why we're the best and the team deserve it," said Hamilton.

Hamilton, who won from pole here last year, has won five of the last six races and is already in a position where he does not need to triumph again this year to clinch the title.

Vettel and Ferrari had failed to match Hamilton's pace all weekend, with the championship leader completing a clean sweep of practice.

 
 

The German, who trails fellow four-time champion Hamilton by 50 points with five races remaining, needs a miracle to reignite his Formula One title hopes after his worst qualifying of the season.

Second and third in the first two parts of the session, Vettel was caught out by Ferrari's decision to fit their cars with intermediate tyres during the final phase instead of slicks.

But with the track still bone dry, the German and team-mate Kimi Raikkonen had to come straight back in to fit the supersoft tyres.

Vettel ran wide on his first attempt on dry tyres, leaving him only one shot at a flying lap. The rain then came before he could set a competitive time.

"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," said the unhappy German.

Max Verstappen qualified third for Red Bull, with Raikkonen fourth after managing to get a lap in on his first attempt. Romain Grosjean was fifth for Haas.

New Zealander Brendon Hartley and French team mate Pierre Gasly were sixth and seventh in a dream result for Honda-powered Toro Rosso at the Japanese engine manufacturer's home race.

Esteban Ocon was initially eighth for Force India, with team-mate Sergio Perez rounding out the top 10. 

“Obviously it’s not the position we deserve to be in,” said the 31-year-old Vettel, who moved up a place after Ocon was handed a three-place drop for a red flag infringement in final practice.