Lewis Hamilton achieved his 71st career pole position in Formula 1 with a dominant qualifying performance at Suzuka.
The Mercedes driver had so much speed and confidence. Breaking the lap record set by Michael Schumacher from 2006.
Championship leader had the edge over his rivals by more than four tenths clear of Sebastian Vettel after the first runs in Q3 and lowered his own benchmark by a couple of hundredths to confirm pole.
Vettel’s Ferrari was provisionally on the front row after the first runs, but a small improvement at the end was not enough to stay second.
Valtteri Bottas, who almost crashed at the second Degner in Q1 after shunting in final practice session, found a lot of time on his own final run to make it onto the front row.
However, a five-place grid penalty for an unscheduled gearbox change on Bottas’s Mercedes will promote Vettel back onto the front row for Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix.
Daniel Ricciardo was fourth fastest in the best of the Red Bulls, just 0.026 seconds clear of team-mate and Sepang winner Max Verstappen.
Kimi Raikkonen went off at the second Degner on his first run in Q3, scene of his crash in final practice, and his second effort was only good enough for sixth.
Raikkonen will also drop five places on the grid after requiring a new gearbox following that crash.
Esteban Ocon narrowly beat Sergio Perez again, while Felipe Massa’s Williams and Fernando Alonso’s McLaren-Honda rounded out the top ten in Q3.
Perez is under investigation for impeding Massa’s Williams team-mate Lance Stroll in Q1, while Alonso will drop to the back of the grid thanks to a 35-place grid penalty for an illegal engine change, following a hydraulic leak discovered after practice.
Alonso’s McLaren team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne missed out on beating Alonso into Q3 by just 0.029 seconds after failing to improve on his second run, but he should start the race inside the top ten thanks to Alonso’s grid penalty.
Nico Hulkenberg was P12 in the best of the Renaults in Q2, a tenth further back, while Kevin Magnussen scored the best qualifying result for Haas since the Belgian Grand Prix by posting P13, within a tenth of Hulkenberg.
Jolyon Palmer was P14, less than three tenths from making the top ten, while Carlos Sainz Jr’s Toro Rosso was cut adrift of the group in P15, almost four tenths slower than Palmer.
Palmer and Sainz both face 20-place grid penalties for requiring illegal engine component changes.
A heavy crash for Romain Grosjean at the top of the Esses in the closing stages of Q1 brought that segment to an early end, which prevented any of the lower runners from go quicker.
Grosjean, who complained “something wrong on the car, massive oversteer” as he ran off the road at Turns 5 and 6 before crashing into the wall before Turn 7, was already in the drop zone when he crashed, having earlier lapped less than a tenth slower than Haas team-mate Kevin Magnussen.
So, Grosjean ended up in P16, ahead of Toro Rosso rookie Pierre Gasly and Lance Stroll, who complained about being blocked multiple times in the early part of Q1.
Marcus Ericsson was quickest of the Sauber drivers in P19, almost three tenths clear of team-mate Pascal Wehrlein and within two tenths of Stroll.
So a brilliant performance by Lewis Hamilton at Suzuka. His first pole position at this challenging, figure of eight track. Title rival Sebastian Vettel starts alongside on the front row and it’s going to be a fascinating fight for race victory.
Qualifying positions, Suzuka:
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m27.319s
2 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1m27.791s
3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull-Renault 1m28.306s
4 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Renault 1m28.332s
5 Esteban Ocon Force India-Mercedes 1m29.111s
6 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 1m29.260s
7 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1m27.651s
8 Felipe Massa Williams-Mercedes 1m29.480s
9 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren-Honda 1m29.778s
10 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1m29.879s
11 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m28.498s
12 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 1m29.972s
13 Romain Grosjean Haas-Ferrari 1m30.849s
14 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso-Renault 1m31.317s
15 Lance Stroll Williams-Mercedes 1m31.409s
16 Marcus Ericsson Sauber-Ferrari 1m31.597s
17 Pascal Wehrlein Sauber-Ferrari 1m31.885s
18 Jolyon Palmer Renault 1m30.022s
19 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso-Renault 1m30.413s
20 Fernando Alonso McLaren-Honda 1m30.687s