F1: Record-breaking pole for Lewis Hamilton in Japan
Formula One championship leader Lewis Hamilton seized a dominant pole position for today's Japanese Grand Prix with the fastest lap ever recorded at the Suzuka circuit
Formula One championship leader Lewis Hamilton seized a dominant pole position for today's Japanese Grand Prix with the fastest lap ever recorded at the Suzuka circuit. The Briton set a benchmark time of one minute, 27.319 seconds, shattering the previous outright best set by Michael Schumacher at the 5.8-kilometer long track in 2006 by 1.6 seconds. The triple champion's lap was good enough to edge Valtteri Bottas by 0.332 seconds but the Finn is set to drop five places on the grid after collecting a penalty for an unscheduled gearbox change and will not start alongside his Mercedes team-mate.
Instead, Hamilton will have title rival Sebastian Vettel sharing the front row with him, after the German went third fastest nearly half a second off the pace, which sets up the tantalising prospect of the two title rivals steaming head to head into the first corner. "The laps? yeah, very much on it," said Hamilton, who leads Vettel by 34 points with five races left, after the session. "Didn't make one mistake each lap, just got better and better."
Yesterday's pole was the 71st of Hamilton's Formula One career but his first at Suzuka. It is also the tenth time this season he has taken top spot on Saturday and marked a convincing return to form for Mercedes. The reigning champions had struggled in the sweltering heat of the last two races in Malaysia and Singapore but nevertheless came away with a win and second place for Hamilton.
Ferrari on the other hand had displayed ominous pace but failed to capitalise on their speed advantage with Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen crashing out on the opening lap in Singapore and being hit by engine issues that hamstrung their charge in Malaysia. Still Vettel, who finished fourth at Sepang despite starting dead last, had hoped that speed Ferrari had displayed in Singapore and Japan would allow him to at least claw back some of points he had given away.
But he had no answer to Hamilton's imperious display on Saturday. "Obviously, we were lacking a bit of performance but all in all I think it was a positive day," said the four-time champion, trying to put a positive spin on his afternoon but nonetheless cutting a subdued figure.
"I think the car should be a bit better in the race. I think our starts lately have been quite good. We'll see what we can do." Daniel Ricciardo set the fourth-fastest time ahead of team-mate Max Verstappen. The Red Bull pair couldn't quite conjure up the speed they had displayed in Singapore and Malaysia, where Verstappen won on merit, but will move up to third and fourth after Bottas' penalty is applied.
Kimi Raikkonen, who will also drop five places on the grid for an unscheduled gearbox change after a crash in Saturday morning's final practice session, set the sixth fastest time. Esteban Ocon was seventh-quickest for Force India ahead of team-mate Sergio Perez and Williams driver Felipe Massa. Fernando Alonso completed the top-ten for McLaren. The Spaniard, though, will start at the back after McLaren replaced his Honda power unit overnight, triggering a 35-place grid penalty for the double world champion.
Jolyon Palmer, who after qualifying announced that the Japanese race would be his last with the Briton agreeing a split with Renault, also collected penalties. Carlos Sainz, who had been set to move to Renault next year but will now replace Palmer at the next race in the United States, was also hit with a hefty penalty.
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