Hamilton storms to 80th pole in Japan, Vettel eighth

Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari SF71H

Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton has dominated both practice sessions for the Japanese Grand Prix as he mounted the pressure on title rival Sebastian Fettel of Ferrari.

The Mercedes driver, in dominant form all weekend at the Suzuka circuit, pumped in a one minute 27.760 second lap on the super-soft tyres while it was still only just spitting with rain.

Wolff's explanation came in the wake of Lewis Hamilton leading Valtteri Bottas for a front-row lockout, while rival Ferrari erroneously took on Intermediates for the start of Q3, contributing to its drivers taking only fourth (Kimi Raikkonen) and eighth (Sebastian Vettel).

After setting his best lap in FP2, an enthusiastic Hamilton could be heard on the radio saying, "this track is awesome; I'm having the best day".

"The team have done an awesome job this weekend, and the call that we made for Q3 was probably the most hard", said the Briton, joined by Bottas on the front row after the Finn completed a second successive Mercedes front row lockout.

He added: "It was a very tricky session today to get it right, we were debating Intermediates versus Supersofts for a long and we decided last minute - we had them ready and then we changed them - and then went out and got the timing ideal".

It is a second consecutive Japanese GP for the 33-year-old Briton, who now has a lead of 67 points over Vettel with four races of the season remaining. His hopes are fading fast and he needs a huge stroke of luck now to reignite his challenge.

"It's not the position we deserve to be in", Vettel said.

"Anything can happen tomorrow".

The pace advantage of the Ferrari meant he easily climbed back up to sixth by half-distance but that was as far as he could get - and Ferrari declined to order Raikkonen in fifth to slow to let his team-mate by, to gain a couple of extra points. "I didn't expect to start third but of course we have a bigger chance to be on the podium".

"I think the first run was OK", said Vettel.

The Australian, as a effect, is set to start 15th.

Toro Rosso's Brendon Hartley claimed his best grid position in sixth, one place ahead of teammate Pierre Gasly.

"I'm stoked with that". There's two or three corners where I know I need to kill it this weekend and I got straight onto it.

In the first instance, Verstappen was given a 5-second time penalty and a single penalty point on his license as the stewards had ruled that he had "cut the chicane and rejoined track on the racing line in turn 17 and in the process collided with vehicle 7".

He recovered to clock the second-quickest time - and did better than Marcus Ericsson, though, who brought out the red flags when he spun his Sauber.

The Briton, victor of five of the last six races had always been favourite for pole having dominated practice but Vettel had looked competitive until the botched tyre choice.

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