Lewis Hamilton enjoyed another momentum swing in the Formula 1 title race against Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel after charging to his eighth pole position of the year in qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix on Saturday.

Hamilton managed to convert his rapid pace through practice on Friday and earlier on Saturday into pole as Mercedes locked out the front row of the grid in a rain-hit final stage of qualifying.

COTA #2 - Tremendous Turn 1

A strategic error from Ferrari meant Vettel could only qualify ninth, giving Hamilton a golden opportunity to extend his 50-point lead at Suzuka on Sunday.

With rain hitting the track at the end of Q2, Ferrari opted to send both Vettel and teammate Kimi Raikkonen out on Intermediate tyres for the start of Q3, only to find that the track had quickly dried. The rest of the Q3 runners went out on slicks, while both Ferrari drivers lost time pitting and switching back to slicks.

While Hamilton was able to get in a quick first lap, by the time the Ferrari drivers came to put in their first flying laps, rain was beginning to hit the track. While Kimi Raikkonen was able to get around in time to go fourth-fastest, Vettel was forced to abandon his lap. A final attempt to get a quick time in was in vain has he went off-track at Degner 2, leaving Vettel a lowly ninth on the grid at Suzuka.

Ferrari and Mercedes also opted for differing tyre strategies in Q2. While Ferrari went for the faster Supersoft compound to choose for its race start tyre, Mercedes opted for the harder Soft compound, meaning both Hamilton and Bottas should be able to go longer into the race before pitting on Sunday.

Max Verstappen was left to lead Red Bull’s charge in third place as a loss of power in Q2 sidelined Daniel Ricciardo. The Australian came into the pits before requiring a push back to Red Bull’s garage, where despite the team’s best efforts, he was unable to get out on-track.

Ricciardo was left a lowly 15th on the grid, and was heard screaming and swearing in anger through his helmet when walking to see the FIA officials at the end of the session.

Romain Grosjean was the leading midfield driver in P5 ahead of Toro Rosso drivers Brendon Hartley and Pierre Gasly, who took the team’s best qualifying result of the season in sixth and seventh respectively. At the home race of engine supplier Honda, it marked a significant result for the team.

Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez also reached Q3 for Force India, finishing eighth and 10th respectively, split by Vettel in ninth.

The arrival of the short rain shower at the end of Q2 forced drivers to abandon their final efforts, leaving Charles Leclerc on the fringes of the top 10 in 11th place for Sauber. The Monegasque driver did try to push in a final run in Q2, only to spin at Degner 1, ending his hopes of advancing.

Kevin Magnussen and Carlos Sainz Jr. also lost out as a result of the weather, finishing 12th and 13th for Haas and Renault respectively, while Lance Stroll managed to make it past the first stage of qualifying for the first time since Monza, taking P14 ahead of the stricken Ricciardo.

A herculean effort from Renault ensured Nico Hulkenberg was able to get out on-track for qualifying following his crash at the end of FP3, but the German’s session was short-lived as he dropped out in Q1. 16th place matched Hulkenberg’s worst qualifying result of the season from the Spanish Grand Prix back in May.

While Stroll was able to make it through to Q2 for Williams, Sergey Sirotkin dropped out at the first hurdle in 17th, albeit lapping just half a tenth slower than his teammate.

McLaren ailed to its third double-Q1 elimination in the last five races as Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne qualified 18th and 19th respectively. Alonso managed to continue his perfect qualifying record against Vandoorne, who only got one clean run on Supersofts after an accidental upshift on his first effort.

Marcus Ericsson crashed out early in Q1 after running wide at Dunlop and hitting the gravel, seemingly caught out by traffic ahead. As well as sparking a red flag stoppage, the shunt into the barrier left damage to the front and rear of the Swede’s Sauber, resigning him to the back of the grid for Sunday’s race.



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