With all of the additional news and notes from Suzuka following qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix on Saturday, Crash.net F1 Digital Editor Luke Smith brings you his paddock notebook.

Lewis Hamilton swept to the 80th pole position of his Formula 1 career in qualifying on Saturday at Suzuka, heading up a front row lock-out for Mercedes. It saw Hamilton become the first driver in F1 history to hit the landmark, extending his lead at the top of the all-time charts.

Hamilton began the day by leading FP3, completing a clean sweep of practice, with Q2 being the only session all weekend long he has not led. Hamilton finished 0.03 seconds behind teammate Valtteri Bottas in that session.

Both Mercedes drivers managed to make it through Q2 on the Soft tyre, meaning they should theoretically be able to go longer into the race before pitting tomorrow than the Supersoft starters around.

The position of the Mercedes drivers on the front row meant team orders were naturally a discussion topic for the media talking to Toto Wolff after the session. Wolff said he wanted to “keep the options open”, but said team orders may be a “necessary evil.”

The big talking point from qualifying was Ferrari’s tyre blunder that saw it send drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen out on Intermediates at the start of Q3. It resulted in Raikkonen qualifying fourth with Vettel ninth, leaving the latter’s title hopes hanging by a thread.

Vettel refused to place blame on anyone after the session, but team principal Maurizio Arrivabene was more vocal with his criticism of the team for the mistake.

P3 man Max Verstappen was asked if he fancied getting in the mix of the title battle between Hamilton and Vettel, to which he replied: “Is it still a battle? I’m not so sure.” Informed of Verstappen had said there wasn’t much of a title battle, Vettel said: “For him, yeah.”

Verstappen’s Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo dropped out in Q2 after a loss of power on his car prevented him from setting a time in the session. The stoppage was caused by a broken throttle actuator, meaning the Australian will not need to take any penalties for the race on Sunday.

The only driver facing a drop at Suzuka is Force India’s Esteban Ocon, who was hit with a three-place grid penalty for failing to slow for the red flag in FP3 following Nico Hulkenberg’s crash.

Toro Rosso recorded its best qualifying of the year as drivers Brendon Hartley and Pierre Gasly qualified sixth and seventh respectively. Hartley revealed his engineer lied to him about track conditions in Q3, saying the Force India drivers had gone faster through the first sector than in Q2 in order to give the driver more confidence. It marked the first time since Canada that Hartley had outqualified Gasly. Gasly said he felt P5 on the grid was possible, the position taken by Romain Grosjean.

The result marked the best qualifying result in Japan for Honda-powered cars since 2005, when Jenson Button and Takuma Sato started P2 and P5 respectively for BAR-Honda.

Rain in Q2 prevented Charles Leclerc, Kevin Magnussen and Carlos Sainz Jr. all running agin in the session, resigning them to mid-grid positions. Leclerc managed to survive a spin at Degner 1 by pulling a 360 to get back in the right direction.

Lance Stroll made it through to Q2 for the first time since Monza after an impressive run at the end of Q1, knocking Nico Hulkenberg out. Hulkenberg matched his worst qualifying result of the year from Spain when he also finished 16th.

Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne struggled to McLaren’s worst qualifying result of the year, finishing 18th and 19th respectively. Alonso said the result was about as expected, though, revealing McLaren has not updated its car since Spain.

McLaren was forced to deny reports it had failed to submit its tyre picks for Japan to Pirelli in time following a strange selection that meant neither of its drivers could complete a Supersoft run in practice. Alonso and Vandoorne both felt it did not hinder their preparation, though.


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