Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc were left surprised after bouncing back from a difficult Friday to lock out the front row of the grid for the Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday morning.

Vettel scored his fifth pole position at Suzuka after edging out Leclerc by two-tenths of a second in the delayed qualifying session, leaving Mercedes drivers Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton behind in P3 and P4 on the grid.

The result came after Ferrari struggled to match Mercedes’ pace through Friday’s practice running, with track conditions being notably different following the passing of the typhoon that left sunny skies and high winds.

“The conditions were very different to what we had on Friday, but the main thing is obviously the sun is out, people are happy,” Vettel said.

“I think we were quite surprised, to be honest. We didn't expect that, to have the front row. So very happy.

“It was unbelievable, the car being so light on fuel and new tyres, and we had headwind up the Esses, which is what you want because then the car feels even better. I don't think I used the brakes other than Turn 2!

“It was unbelievable. I really enjoyed it, but it's only part of the job done. Let's look forward to this afternoon.”

It was the first time Vettel had outqualified Leclerc since the Canadian Grand Prix in June – 10 races ago – but the Monegasque driver freely conceded he had been off the pace compared to his teammate.

“Seb did an amazing lap, today he deserves to be on pole,” Leclerc said.

“I've been struggling a bit since the beginning of the weekend, but to be honest I was pretty happy with my lap now in qualy apart from the last sector where I did a few mistakes, so pole was not possible. Seb was just too quick, so congratulations to him.

“I’m very happy and very surprised to be first and second after the free practices we had. The race is the most important. Hopefully we'll be able to keep these positions.”

Bottas led Mercedes’ charge in third place, saying that there was no way he could have breached the front row of the grid in the final stage of qualifying.

“We seemed quite strong ahead of qualifying, but we always knew Ferrari might have something in reserve to turn things up. Especially in Q3 they were untouchable really,” Bottas said.

“Again, same thing on the straight lines, they were quicker. Through the corners we were good. We had the new package here, with the new aero bits. It definitely felt better than before, but still not quite enough.”



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