Lewis Hamilton beat Valtteri Bottas to Formula 1 pole position in Suzuka after Ferrari and Vettel had a significant strategy blunder, forcing the German to line up only ninth for the Japanese Grand Prix.
Hamilton beat team-mate Valtteri Bottas to pole position by 0.299s, whilst Max Verstappen took advantage of Ferrari’s strategy blunders and took third place ahead of Kimi Raikkonen.
Story of the session
As the light went green, drivers were keen to set a banker lap, given the threat of showers throughout the qualifying hour, with McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne the first man to take onto circuit. It wasn’t just the mid-field teams, the Ferrari’s were very quick to take onto circuit to set their initial laps. The McLaren driver set a 1.32.170 as the first lap, and was quickly beaten by 1.6s by Haas’ Romain Grosjean.
However, Ferrari soon went to the top of the time-sheets, as Vettel set a 1.29.049s to go 0.582s faster than his Ferrari team-mate during their first flying lap. As Mercedes took to circuit, Hamilton easily beat Vettel to the top by 0.347s, whilst Bottas went third fastest in his Mercedes. Red Bull, too, took to car around the same time as the Mercedes cars, with Verstappen going fourth fastest (ahead of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen) with Ricciardo struggling in sixth.
Marcus Ericsson had a shunt at dunlop curve during his lap, caused by the changing wind directions, and that caused a red flag so his Sauber could be recovered backed to the pits, as the clouds became ever darker.
As the session restarted, the two Renault’s were first to take out onto circuit.
As rain drops appeared during the final points of qualifying, Hulkenberg, Sirotkin, Alonso, Vandoorne and Ericsson all faced elimination.
As Q2 was underway, the Mercedes were first out of the pit-lane, but crucially on the slower, soft compound tyres, whilst the Ferrari’s took on the super-softs.
As the first times came in, Valtteri Bottas snatched the upper edge from Lewis Hamilton by 0.030s, as Sebastian Vettel was the fastest Ferrari and some three tenths adrift, despite being on the faster, softer compound tyres.
As the drivers headed out for their second Q2 runs, the rain suddenly arrived at Suzuka, as Leclerc, Magnussen, Sainz, Stroll and Ricciardo all faced elimination, after they effectively were unable to complete their second run, given the arrival of the rain.
As Q3 got underway, the Ferrari’s went out on intermediate tyres whilst the Mercedes cars went out on the slick tyres. That decision by Ferrari proved to be another wrong one – and they returned straight back to the pits.
Hamilton went provisional pole early on with a 1.27.760s with Bottas in second and 0.299s. Ferrari’s decision proved to be costly as Raikkonen could only go fourth fastest as Vettel went ninth and well off the pace.