Hamilton achieves 80th career pole at Suzuka as Vettel is only ninth

Championship leader Lewis Hamilton achieved his 80th career pole position in Formula 1 with the fastest lap time at Suzuka, while title rival Sebastian Vettel ended up ninth after a failed intermediate tyre gamble.

Hamilton hit the front on the supersofts Pirelli on the first runs in Q3, lapping 0.229 seconds faster than his Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas.

That lap of one minute, 27.760 seconds proved to be fast enough to secure pole position given rain that hit the track in the middle of the session.

Both Mercedes drivers will start on the soft compound Pirellis, having used them to set their Q2 times.

Ferrari drivers Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen, meanwhile, were sent out on intermediates at the start of Q3 in anticipation of the rain coming earlier.

Both were forced to abort their runs to take on slicks, meaning their first flying laps came just as rain was on the cusp of falling, and while Raikkonen was able to post a one minute, 29.521 seconds to secure fourth behind Red Bull driver Max Verstappen, Vettel ran off the track at Spoon Curve after the rear stepped out and posted only a one minute, 32.192 seconds.

For good measure, Vettel later went off through the gravel at Degner 1 while cruising on slicks in the intensifying rain.

This allowed Haas driver Romain Grosjean, who will be the only driver in the midfield group in the top ten to start on softs having brilliantly used the tyre to set his Q2 time, to take ‘Class B’ pole position in fifth.

His Q3 lap put him just over two-tenths faster than Toro Rosso driver Brendon Hartley.

The Honda-powered team had set a target of having both cars in Q3 after using its ‘Spec 3’ engine for qualifying for the first time, and Hartley slotted in ahead of team-mate Pierre Gasly in seventh.

Racing Point Force India duo Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez were eighth and tenth, sandwiching Vettel’s Ferrari.

Perez also did not set a serious time, lapping 9.5 seconds off the pace, having aborted his lap on his first run.

Sauber driver Charles Leclerc was the quickest of those eliminated in Q2, in which rain meant the first-run times decided the order.

Leclerc was P11 after his first run, but attempted to complete a lap on his second set of supersofts in the forlorn hope of breaking into the top ten before spinning exiting Degner 1.

Haas driver Kevin Magnussen was 12th fastest having used softs on his first run and lapping 0.548 seconds slower than Grosjean in Q2 on the same compound.

Carlos Sainz Jr was P13 for Renault ahead of Williams driver Lance Stroll. Daniel Ricciardo was P15 after failing to set a time in Q2, cruising into the pits at the end of his outlap with what appeared to be an engine problem.

Renault driver Nico Hulkenberg was eliminated in Q1, having had his first run compromised by a red flag caused by Marcus Ericsson crashing in Turn 7.

The Swede ran wide onto the grass through the left-hander then spun into the barrier on his second push lap, leading to a six-minute red flag.

Hulkenberg was, along with team-mate Sainz and Perez, one of three drivers not to have set a time at that point, and after going out immediately after the restart was relegated into the dropzone by a flurry of improvements as Q1 was chequered flagged.

Sainz was the driver whose improvement actually relegated Hulkenberg into the bottom five, with the German ending up just 0.044 seconds slower than Stroll ahead.

Sergey Sirotkin was P17, just 0.011 seconds slower than Hulkenberg, with McLaren’s Fernando Alonso P18 on his first taste of the fastest supersoft Pirellis of the weekend.

Team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne was P19 having had to use soft rubber for his first run before moving onto supersofts, putting him ahead only of Ericsson.

So an excellent team effort for Mercedes with a front row grid slot at Suzuka. Congratulations to Lewis Hamilton in achieving pole position. This is looking so good for Hamilton considering championship rival Vettel is eight places behind. The 2018 title is within Hamilton’s gasp. Roll on race day.

Japanese Grand Prix, qualifying result:
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m27.760s
2 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1m28.059s
3 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Renault 1m29.057s
4 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m29.521s
5 Romain Grosjean Haas-Ferrari 1m29.761s
6 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso-Honda 1m30.023s
7 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso-Honda 1m30.093s
8 Esteban Ocon Force India-Mercedes 1m30.126s
9 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1m32.192s
10 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 1m37.229s
11 Charles Leclerc Sauber-Ferrari 1m29.864s
12 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 1m30.226s
13 Carlos Sainz Renault 1m30.490s
14 Lance Stroll Williams-Mercedes 1m30.714s
15 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull-Renault –
16 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1m30.361s
17 Sergey Sirotkin Williams-Mercedes 1m30.372s
18 Fernando Alonso McLaren-Renault 1m30.573s
19 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren-Renault 1m31.041s
20 Marcus Ericsson Sauber-Ferrari 1m31.213s

7 thoughts to “Hamilton achieves 80th career pole at Suzuka as Vettel is only ninth”

  1. Japanese Grand Prix qualifying review as reported by Formula1.com.

    Mercedes dished out some more pain to rivals Ferrari in qualifying at Suzuka, with brilliant strategy helping Lewis Hamilton take his 80th F1 pole position ahead of team mate Valtteri Bottas, as Sebastian Vettel slumped to a disappointing ninth in changeable conditions.

    Mercedes read the tricky weather perfectly in Japan, ensuring that both of their drivers were able to bang in their best laps early in Q3 before the rain arrived to secure their fifth consecutive one-two in qualifying at Suzuka.

    Max Verstappen was third for Red Bull on a day when team mate Daniel Ricciardo dropped out of Q2 with suspected power unit issues. The Dutchman finished ahead of the leading Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen, with the Haas of Romain Grosjean a spendid P5.

    It was a great qualifying, meanwhile, for Toro Rosso, with Brendon Hartley claiming his best ever grid position in sixth, one place ahead of team mate Pierre Gasly at the track that engine supplier Honda built back in 1962.

    Esteban Ocon was eighth, ahead of Vettel, with his Force India team mate Sergio Perez winding up P10.

    This, however, is a day that would be remembered for a Mercedes ‘masterstroke’…

    Marcus Ericsson’s qualifying session lasted just eight minutes, after the Swede lost his Sauber going into the Dunlop curve, ending up in the barriers and with his car looking decidedly second-hand. The incident brought out a mid-segment red flag, and when the drivers headed back out on track, it was Lewis Hamilton who came out of the blocks quickest to continue his session-leading weekend.

    He finished ahead of Sebastian Vettel, who ended up 0.347s behind his rival despite suffering an innocuous spin at the hairpin. The shock exit in Q1 was Nico Hulkenberg, with the Renault driver ending up P16 to crown a difficult day for the German after he spun into the wall in Free Practice 3 and needed a rush job to get his car repaired in time. He was joined in the elimination zone by the Williams of Sergey Sirotkin, the McLaren pairing of Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne – the Spaniard outqualifying his team mate for the 22nd consecutive race – and Ericsson.

    It was a positive segment for Lance Stroll, meanwhile, with the Williams driver scraping through into Q2 in fifteenth place.

    Daniel Ricciardo had an early bath in Q2, the Red Bull driver having to be pushed down the pit lane after reporting a loss of power and failing to set a lap time. The Australian was heard screaming in frustration into his helmet as he trudged disgustedly away from his car.

    It was a terrific segment for Toro Rosso, with both drivers making it through to Q3 at engine supplier Honda’s home race. Less happy were Carlos Sainz, Kevin Magnussen and Charles Leclerc, with all three drivers failing to make it out of Q2, caught out by a rain late in the segment. Leclerc also suffered a low-speed spin at the first Degner curve before dropping out, along with the Williams of Stroll and Ricciardo.

    Bottas headed the time sheets for the first time this weekend, leading team mate Hamilton by just 0.030s with the two Ferraris of Vettel and Raikkonen P3 and P4, once again shaded by the Mercedes. Tellingly, both Silver Arrows made it through having used the soft tyres – another potential advantage for Sunday’s race – while everyone else bar Grosjean was on supersofts.

    If ever Sebastian Vettel had needed to pull a pole position out of the back, it was now. In the event, the final segment of qualifying couldn’t have gone much worse for the Ferrari driver. With rain in the air, a cautious Ferrari sent both Vettel and Raikkonen out on the intermediate tyres, hoping conditions would quickly worsen, while Mercedes opted to brave it out on the red supersofts.

    “A masterstroke,” is what a delighted Toto Wolff said to his engineers on the pit wall afterwards, as Hamilton drove to his 80th career pole – a monumental milestone – while Bottas joined him on the front row of the grid.

    With all the best times coming on the first runs of Q3 as conditions worsened, Vettel could only manage ninth place after failing to be on track at the optimum time and then making a mistake at Spoon Curve. Already a massive 50 points behind Hamilton in the drivers’ standings with five races to go, this can only be seen as another huge dent for the German.

    Max Verstappen got the closest to the Mercedes pair in P3, albeit a massive 1.297s slower than Hamilton. He’ll have been encouraged by the performance of the Honda-powered Toro Rossos too, with Brendon Hartley and Pierre Gasly trumping Force India in the midfield to go P6 and P7 – although Romain Grosjean beat both of them with a fantastic fifth for Haas.

    But it was Lewis Hamilton who was once again the star performer in Suzuka, having now headed every session and segment of the weekend bar one.

    “The call we made to go out in Q3,” said Hamilton afterwards, “which is probably the most difficult call, you saw all of us fumbling and trying to figure out what to do – the team were spot on with it and it gave us an opportunity to grab this pole position.”

    Ahead of Sunday’s race, you’d have to be very brave to bet against Hamilton claiming his fifth Japanese Grand Prix victory… and edging closer towards a fifth title in the process.

    But as we’ve seen in the past, anything can happen at Suzuka.

  2. After securing pole position at Suzuka, Lewis Hamilton commented that this Q3 strategy calls showed Mercedes are the “best in the world”. Motorsport.com has the details.

    Lewis Hamilton believes Mercedes showed its true class as the best team in Formula 1 during Japanese Grand Prix qualifying, on a day when title rival Ferrari made another blunder.

    Hamilton secured the 80th pole position of his career at the Japanese Grand Prix after a tricky Q3 session where teams were having to balance out which tyres to run in the changeable conditions.

    In the end, Ferrari’s wrong decision to run intermediates at the start of the session meant its drivers were not out on track when it was driest – and Hamilton’s main title rival Sebastian Vettel could qualify no better than ninth.

    Speaking about the fact that Mercedes had again got things right, Hamilton said: “It is so difficult out there to make the right call, and that is another real big difference that we as a team have made this year.

    “Every team has smart people but ultimately when it comes to being under pressure in making the right decisions and the right calls, that is why we are the best team in the world and rightly so – they are the best in the world.”

    Hamilton also says he personally doubted that Ferrari had made the right call in going for the intermediates at the start of Q3.

    “The Ferraris pulled out the garage on the inters and I honestly didn’t think it was the right decision. Obviously we made the right decision as a team.”

    Bottas too was full of praise for how Mercedes had dealt with the pressure, and believed it was one of the strongest performances he had seen from the team.

    “I think having been in this team for less than two seasons, from what I have seen, it was one of the best days as a group,” he said.

    He added: “We should be really proud of what we did, with the car, and how we worked today. Every single decision was right and everyone was calm.

    “It might have looked weird from the outside. It was a hectic session and so on, but it was calm inside. But we stuck to our plan and made the right choices.”

    Vettel said after the session that it was clear Ferrari had the pace to do much better in Japan.

    “I think the first run was sort of okay,” he said. “I had a mistake in Spoon so lost most of the time there.

    “Obviously the second run we didn’t make it out in time because the rain came and we were too late, of course.

    “Obviously it’s not the position we deserve to be in. I think we have better speed than ninth but we’ll start there and see how it goes. Anything can happen tomorrow. Tomorrow is a new day.”

  3. This was a terrible Q3 session for Ferrari and yet, Sebastian Vettel is “not blaming anybody” for failed Ferrari tyre gamble. Motorsport.com has the news story.

    Sebastian Vettel says he is “not blaming anybody” at Ferrari for the failed tyre gamble during qualifying for Formula 1’s Japanese Grand Prix.

    Vettel and teammate Kimi Raikkonen were the only drivers to be sent out on intermediate tyres at the start of Q3, but both returned to the pits after just one lap as the track was dry.

    With rain hitting the circuit at the end of the session, the time lost at the start proved crucial, as Vettel wound up ninth after a poor fastest lap.

    “I think, why we took the decisions, five or six minutes later it started to rain quite heavy so there was something in the air,” said Vettel.

    “I think we expected there was more rain coming and obviously it didn’t so then it was the wrong decision. When the conditions are like this then either you get it right or you get it wrong.

    “So I’m not blaming anybody,” added the German.

    When asked who had made the decision, Vettel said: “Why does it matter? Our call.”

    Vettel, who is set to start the race eight places behind championship rival Lewis Hamilton, made a mistake on the only flying lap that he managed to complete, but said the track was still in good condition.

    He conceded the tyre call made Ferrari “look stupid”, but insisted he stood by the decision.

    “It [the track] was OK. I lost it into Turn 14 so that was obviously the only lap that I had, which didn’t help,” he said.

    “We obviously lost a bit of timing due to that in the beginning but as I said, if it starts to rain five/six/seven minutes earlier, then we did a miracle because we’re the only clever ones.

    “And if it’s like that, we’re the only ones looking stupid.

    “As I said, therefore I defend the decision, it’s our decision as a team. Obviously it wasn’t wet enough to start with and the rain didn’t come, it came later.”

    Vettel finished behind Raikkonen, who qualified fourth despite also making a mistake on his flying lap.

    The Finn reckons that Ferrari got off lightly from its tyre gamble.

    “You have two decisions and one is right and one is wrong. We got it wrong. At least it wasn’t a complete disaster after that. We managed to put one lap, kind of okay even with the mistake.

    “I think we got away lightly from it.”

  4. Racing Point Force India driver Esteban Ocon will drop three places on the grid for Formula 1’s Japanese Grand Prix for failing to slow sufficiently for red flags in practice.

    Ocon was adjudged to have breached red flag rules during the third free practice session of the weekend, after Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg crashed to suspend the session.

    The stewards’ statement explained that Ocon had been confused by Force India’s system for managing pace under red flags and ended up speeding for three mini-sectors of the lap.

    “The driver informed the Stewards, and the telemetry showed, that he had slowed down for the red flags,” the decision read.

    “However, after Turn 4, he heard some beeps on the radio that suggested he was too slow and sped up briefly to regularize his speed.

    “In doing so, he briefly exceeded the delta by a maximum of -1.68 [seconds] over three mini sectors.

    “As a result, he had failed to maintain the speed delta required under the regulations, resulting in an infringement.

    “He acknowledged the infringement and attributed it to confusion caused by the beeps and the system currently being used by the team in such situations.

    “In the end, given the importance of observance of the speed restrictions while red flags are being shown and recognising the limited extend of the breach, we decided to impose the above penalty.”

    Ocon, who was best of the rest behind the three top teams in all three practice sessions, qualified an initial eighth in a mixed-weather Q3.

    He will now drop behind Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, Force India teammate Sergio Perez and Sauber’s Charles Leclerc to start 11th.

    The Frenchman has also picked up two penalty points, having had none on his license for the 12-month period heading into the weekend.

    Source: Motorsport.com

  5. This was the best qualifying result for Brendon Hartley with sixth position. The Toro Rosso driver explained that an engineer’s lie played part in superb qualifying. Motorsport.com has the full story.

    Toro Rosso driver Brendon Hartley says a fib from his race engineer contributed to his best-ever Formula 1 qualifying result in Suzuka.

    Hartley led teammate Pierre Gasly in sixth place, as he finished 2.263s off pole position in the mixed-weather final qualifying segment.

    Rain hit the track at the end of Q3, meaning drivers’ first attempts were the ones that determined the order – but the surface wasn’t in optimal condition at the start of the session either, as it had also rained at the end of the previous segment.

    Hartley says his race engineer Pierre Hamelin had spurred him on early in Q3 by saying Force India had improved upon its Q2 time – while in reality Esteban Ocon was half a second slower than in Q2 and Sergio Perez didn’t manage a clean lap.

    “All the sessions were tricky because the kerbs are always wet, so it was tricky out there, you had to be very precise,” Hartley said.

    “Q3, my engineer told me on the radio that Force India had improved their time, ‘so the track is definitely okay’.

    “I’ve now looked at the timing screens and realised that he lied to me.

    “So he gave me good confidence that the first sector was going to be dry and good grip, which was a good thing. I had to have full trust in him.

    “The team did a fantastic job to put us on track at the right time, and no mistakes from anyone today, so, mega.”

    Asked whether it was already raining during his best lap, Hartley said: “Yeah, it was raining on the visor. And obviously at the end of Q2 it was also raining so much that we couldn’t go out on slicks.

    “So starting that first lap and having the confidence through sector one, was tricky, there was a lot of talking to myself, trusting the team that obviously told me the Force India was quicker.”

    Gasly wound up within a tenth of Hartley to qualify seventh, and said the result was “unbelievable” for Toro Rosso.

    He did, however, admit disappointment at his position on the grid, as he said his new-spec Honda engine was running turned down compared to Hartley’s due to issues during practice.

    “I had some serious oscillations in upshift [in free practice three] and I was down on power quite a lot.

    “We couldn’t really test the qualifying settings so from Q1 I was always down on power and trying to recover run after run, but in the end we could not run the engine as aggressive as the other side.

    “[I missed] two-three tenths on my fastest lap, which is more or less the gap that we miss compared to [Romain] Grosjean, so P5 was possible, which would have been best of the rest, which is always nice on the driver point of view.

    “But then, still P7, I think is like second- or third-best qualifying of the season for me, so I’m still happy.”

  6. Haas driver Romain Grosjean came “very close” to following Ferrari tyre gamble in Q3 but paid off with fifth position on the grid. Motorsport.com has the details.

    Romain Grosjean admits he came “very close” to following Ferrari in going out with intermediate tyres in the final segment of Formula 1 qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix.

    Ferrari paid the price for the decision to leave the pitlane on intermediates at the start of Q3, when the track was still dry, with Sebastian Vettel finishing down in ninth position.

    Grosjean was one of the stars of qualifying, placing the Haas in fifth, but he acknowledged a last-minute change of mind stopped him from following Ferrari’s strategy.

    When asked how close he was to going out on intermediates, the Frenchman said: “Very close, very close. We had all the settings on the steering wheel for inters.

    “Tyre switch, brake balance, everything was inters, and at the last minute again, when we saw the footage of the cars going out and not sliding too much, we reverted everything to slicks and it went fine.”

    He added: “We had no idea, basically, because when we came back in Q2 in the box it was very hard to keep the car on track with slicks.

    “So we were in the garage debating which tyre to go out with, but I just said: ‘It’s a gamble, boys. It’s a gamble to go like Ferrari on inters and then when the rain comes, you are a superstar. If it was dry enough, not great.’

    “We took the risk to wait and to get close to the rain shower coming and to see what people were doing and when we saw Mercedes and Force India into sector 1 going around and not sliding too much then we decided to go.

    “It was the right choice at the time, but it could have gone both ways because you haven’t driven for like 10 minutes so you never know.”

    Apart from the Mercedes drivers, Grosjean is the only top 10 qualifier that will start the race on soft tyres.

    The Haas driver said it was a “brave” move to use the harder compound for his Q2 lap, and expects the gamble to pay off in the race.

    “It wasn’t an easy move because I used the soft in FP1,” he explained.

    “My first feeling was the soft was a really good tyre but it was at 10am on Friday morning and I didn’t run it until Q2 and Q2 had rain coming so kind of knew it was one attempt.

    “It was a brave move but first feeling and the instinct was that it was fine and I think actually my fastest lap of all the session was on softs.

    “Tomorrow with temperature going up it should be the tyre to be on.”

  7. Ferrari boss Maurizio Arrivabene labelled his team’s tyre choice blunder in qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix as “unacceptable”, as he blasted a lack of “common sense” on the pitwall.

    Sebastian Vettel’s world championship hopes suffered a fresh blow in qualifying at Suzuka after Ferrari picked intermediates for a relatively dry track – believing that heavy rain was coming.

    By the time the team had realised it had made a mistake and swapped Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen to slicks, the rain finally arrived and both drivers made errors on the damp track in their attempts to set a time.

    Raikkonen lost out the least to end up qualifying fourth, while Vettel set the ninth fastest time – but will start eighth – after he ran off the track at Spoon.

    Although afterwards Vettel refused to blame the team for its errors, Arrivabene was less charitable.

    “From the way things were done, I do not think that pole position was within our reach, but what happened today is unacceptable,” he told Motorsport.com

    “I am very angry. It is not the first time that these mistakes have occurred. I do not feel like pointing my fingers at someone in particular, but I’m very disappointed.”

    Although refusing to single out individual errors, Arrivabene was clear that the decision-making process on the pi wall was not good enough – and that perhaps the team was lacking some guidance from staff with enough experience.

    “Unlike on other occasions, it was easy to understand what was happening on the track, as all our opponents left the pits with slicks,” he added.

    “Sometimes it is more useful to take your eyes off computers and watch the track, using common sense.

    “It is true that we are a young team, and we are probably missing an ‘old hand’, an experienced person capable of reading situations correctly and quickly.”

    Vettel himself believes that in the wake of recent errors that it was important the team learned what it could do better.

    “I don’t think there was that much missing,” he said. “It’s correct that maybe we’ve been on the wrong side a couple of times, but I don’t think there was an awful big gap or an awful lot to get wrong.

    “It’s not been going in our favour, which of course we need to understand why if others did something better.”

    While the team will focus for now on how best to respond to the mistake it made here, Arrivabene has not ruled out the ongoing incidents leading to a wider organisational changes over the winter.

    “The calculations are done at the end of the year, and we will intervene if necessary,” he said.

    Source: Motorsport.com

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