Lewis Hamilton says he’s thrilled to take his first pole position at the Suzuka circuit after another dominant qualifying performance as he aims to defend from Formula 1 world title rival Sebastian Vettel alongside him on the front row.

The Mercedes driver has clinched his 71st career F1 pole position but only his first at Suzuka with a masterclass qualifying performance to produce a new outright lap record of 1m 27.319s.

Despite being one of the strongest qualifiers in F1 history, Hamilton says he’s delighted to clinch pole for the first time in Suzuka - reaching the record of taking at least one pole at every F1 track on the calendar - as he aims to charge ahead of Vettel who starts a promoted second place after Valtteri Bottas’s five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change after qualifying second.

“I never really got a great balance in the past so I never did great qualifying so to finally get the balance, great work from my engineers and great timing to finally get on the track and get the tyres,” Hamilton said. “The car is crazy, I wish you could feel it, man. It’s incredible, 10 years or whatever it is and my first pole position here. 10 times lucky or whatever it is.”

“I've had plenty of opportunities to get this pole and I thought 'I'm going make sure I'm going make it stick today'. Valtteri did a great job - obviously he's gonna have the penalty at the start but he's got a great opportunity in the race to get up here with us.”

Hamilton says Mercedes is braced for the Ferrari charge, having seen the two teams more evenly match for race pace compared to qualifying in 2017, and is up for the fight against Vettel.

“Generally, we take a little step back or get a little bit slower when it comes to the races compared to Ferrari, I think that’s really the philosophy of our car design," he said. "I think in the race we are going to be okay. The Ferrari’s were very, very quick in the last race with the pace they had so we’ll see. We’ve put ourselves in the best position and obviously it’s me and Sebastian on the front row so bring it on.

“We've worked hard for the car to work so hopefully it will in the race. It's always harder once you get to the race, those Esses really kill the tyres so I hope we're in a good position for that. Naturally the Ferraris will be rapid, as they always are but we've just got to plan to keep them behind.”

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