Sebastian Vettel was left frustrated after Ferrari’s gamble to run on intermediates during qualifying for the Formula 1 Japanese Grand Prix backfired, leaving him a lowly eighth.

Ferrari had trailed the Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas throughout practice and in the opening two dry segments in qualifying, before a rain-affected Q3 resulted in a dramatic shootout for pole as Hamilton headed an all-Mercedes front-row.

Vettel and teammate Kimi Raikkonen were sent out on intermediates at the start of Q3 expecting the rain to pick up in intensity, while the rest of the Q3 runners – including Hamilton and Bottas – all opted to head out on slicks to set the initial benchmark times.

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The decision failed to pay off as both drivers were forced to abort their first efforts, putting them out of sequence in the session, meaning their first laps on Supersofts were ultimately completed as the rain began to fall heavier.

Raikkonen managed the fourth-quickest time despite a scruffy lap, while Vettel also made a mistake as he ran wide at Spoon Curve, limiting him to the ninth-quickest time. He will start eighth in Sunday's race, however, after Esteban Ocon was slapped with a three-place grid penalty for a red flag infringement during FP3. 

“It’s not the position we deserve to be in. We have more speed than ninth but we start there and see how it goes,” Vettel conceded.

“It was not our day. I had a snap in Spoon which didn’t help but not our qualifying. I think the first run was OK. But I had a mistake so lost most of the time there but the second run we obviously didn’t make it out on time because the rain came.

"Five or six or seven minutes later it started to rain quite heavily so there was something in the air," he added.

"I think we expected that there was more rain coming and obviously it didn’t. so then it was the wrong decision but when the conditions are like this then obviously you either get it right or you get it wrong. I’m not blaming anybody."

Vettel had closed Ferrari’s apparent pace deficit to rivals Mercedes in a dry FP3, and the German was disappointed not to get the chance to show the gains the Scuderia had made overnight heading into qualifying when it mattered.

“I think we made a step from yesterday but obviously we weren’t able to show it. Tomorrow is a new day, it won’t be easy when you start further back but it’s not impossible.”

The result acts as the latest blow to Vettel and Ferrari’s ever-fading championship hopes, with Hamilton in a prime position to further strengthen his 50-point lead in the drivers’ standings.

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