Lewis Hamilton secures 71st career pole ahead of rival Sebastian Vettel at Japanese Grand Prix

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Top spot: Hamilton.

Lewis Hamilton struck a huge psychological blow in the Formula One title race Saturday with a sizzling qualifying drive to take pole position for the Japanese Grand Prix.

The Briton, who leads Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel by 34 points with five races left, steered his Mercedes to a track record of one minute, 27.319 seconds with Valtteri Bottas second fastest.

Vettel will join Hamilton on the front row after Bottas incurred a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change to his Mercedes on Friday.

“The car is crazy here,” said the triple world champion after his 71st career pole, and first at Suzuka.

“This track has always been one of the greatest and with this car it’s just mind-blowing,” added Hamilton, looking to hit back after being stunned by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in Malaysia last weekend.

“With the downforce we now have it’s three seconds faster than before and it’s just insane speeds that this car is throwing us around inside.

“It’s incredible, my first pole position here – 10th time lucky or whatever it is.”

A three-time winner of the Japanese Grand Prix, Hamilton fired a clear warning to Vettel, who realistically needs to win this weekend to revive his fading title hopes.

The German, who finished fourth in Malaysia after starting from last, set the tempo in Friday’s rain-hit practice but was well off the pace in qualifying.

“I tried everything on that last lap as I knew I had to take a bit more risks,” said Vettel.

“I knew that we’d be on front row because of Valtteri’s penalty so I’m pretty happy.”

Daniel Ricciardo was fourth fastest, followed by Verstappen – putting the two Red Bulls on the second row.

The Force India pair of Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez start on row three with Bottas and the Williams of Felipe Massa behind them.

Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen qualified sixth quickest, has also been demoted five places after switching his gearbox following a shunt in Saturday’s practice.

There were more hair-raising moments in qualifying as Bottas, who crashed in the morning’s free practice, almost lost control early on.

Romain Grosjean was less fortunate and smashed into a wall moments later, mangling his Haas machine.
“Massive oversteer – I don’t know what happened,” snapped Grosjean over team radio.

Former world champion Fernando Alonso outqualified McLaren team mate Stoffel Vandoorne but it mattered little as the Spaniard will start the race from last after changing his engine overnight.

As a result, Vandoorne will be promoted from 11th to 10th on the starting grid. 

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Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel rejects fears of gremlins in Japanese GP

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Sebastian Vettel has played down Ferrari’s reliability issues before this week’s crunch Japanese Grand Prix, insisting it was no time for panic.

The four-time world champion was bullish Thursday despite slipping 34 points behind Mercedes title rival Lewis Hamilton after finishing fourth from stone last in Malaysia last weekend.

Vettel’s hopes of catching Hamilton were boosted by the news his Ferrari will not need a new gearbox following a post-race shunt with Lance Stroll’s Williams, meaning the German is set to avoid a five-place grid penalty.

But gremlins that plagued the team’s weekend in Malaysia prompted a tetchy response from Ferrari president Sergio Marchionne, who admitted he was “angry” at the lack of reliability shown by the cars.

“We had a problem in Malaysia, stopping myself and Kimi,” said Vettel, whose Finnish team mate Raikkonen was wheeled away from his front-row grid slot with engine failure.

“It’s normal that you try to understand things. Knowing what’s going on internally, there’s no panic or any big plans as a reaction. Maybe it’s more a coincidence between the events.”

He added: “Our situation is clear: we are taking it race by race but our goal is to win every one. We can’t be happy unless we perform to our limit.”

Vettel is due a little good fortune after crashing from pole in Singapore three weeks ago.

“Obviously the last few races weren’t great hits for us,” said the former Red Bull driver.

“But sticking your head in the sand is no alternative either. I believe we have a strong car and there are plenty of races left.

“I think we have a good understanding but it’s only been a couple of days,” he added. “I’m pretty convinced we shouldn’t have any issues here.”

Vettel also refused to throw in the towel, despite a significant gap between him and Hamilton with just five races left this season.

“We are behind so it depends on what Mercedes is doing,” he said.

“I think it’s pretty clear we need to do our best. We are behind on points if we look at the championship, so we need to score much more than them.”

Red Bull, meanwhile, have begun to flex their muscles with Max Verstappen capping his 20th birthday weekend by posting his second Formula One victory in Malaysia with Australian team mate Daniel Ricciardo taking third.

“How we achieve it doesn’t matter, as long as we achieve it,” said a defiant Vettel, who has won four races this year to Hamilton’s seven.

“We have the package,” he added. “Now we just have to bring it to the track.”

Provided by AFP Sport

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Lewis Hamilton aiming to drive it like Stephen Curry and other talking points ahead of the Japenese GP

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Lewis Hamilton.

Lewis Hamilton is looking to hit back from his defeat in Malaysia at this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix, scene of a bizarre ‘Snapchat’ row that overshadowed last year’s race.

Britain’s triple world champion was forced to play second fiddle to Max Verstappen in Sepang on Sunday after securing his ninth pole of the season and 70th of his career.

The 32-year-old stretched his world championship lead over Ferrari rival Sebastian Vettel to 34 points with five races left.

Ahead of the race in Suzuka, AFP Sport takes a closer look at the major talking points.

Hamilton aiming to drive it like Curry

Lewis Hamilton limbered up for Suzuka by joining NBA superstar Stephen Curry for a spot of golf in China.

Britain’s world championship leader will hope some of the Golden State sharp-shooter’s magic rubs off on him after Curry donned Hamilton’s yellow helmet to take a tee shot.

Looking like a member of electronic music duo Daft Punk, Curry fluffed his drive before removing the lid to whack one down the middle of the fairway — with a power and precision Hamilton will want to emulate in Japan.

Guess who this is…?

A post shared by Lewis Hamilton (@lewishamilton) on

The kids are not alright at Ferrari

Ferrari president Sergio Marchionne blamed a “young team” for the reliability issues that plagued them at last week’s Malaysian Grand Prix.

After Sebastian Vettel had to start last because of engine trouble, Kimi Raikkonen failed to take up his second place on the grid after suffering similar gremlins.

Employing some serious manager-speak, Marchionne promised Ferrari would be “making some organisational changes” after insisting both red cars could have won in Malaysia.

Red Bull putting the fizz into F1

Whether it be Max Verstappen’s seat-of-the-pants style of driving or Daniel Ricciardo’s eye-watering “Shoey” celebration, Red Bull are without doubt Formula One’s coolest team.

Dutch flier Verstappen’s second career win in Malaysia fired a warning to Mercedes and Ferrari, while Ricciardo also finished on the podium.

The only downside of continued success for the F1 hipsters is that more poor souls will be forced to drink champagne from the Australian’s sweaty boot.

Radio Alonso: the art of diplomacy

Fernando Alonso’s frustrations at McLaren have sparked more than the occasional tantrum from the Spaniard over the team radio.

One of Alonso’s more memorable meltdowns came in Japan two years ago when the former world champion barked: “GP2 engine, GP2 engine, very embarrassing!”

Engine suppliers Honda were far from amused and it remains to be seen if Alonso will show more charity this weekend after McLaren recently ended their ill-fated partnership.

Point to prove for spluttering Honda

And speaking of Honda, how they would love to go out with a bang with McLaren at their home track — albeit it figuratively, rather than literally.

Honda are set to supply Toro Rosso next year, which may fill the Red Bull-owned team with a sense of foreboding.

But a strong showing at Suzuka would sweep away much of the gloom and doom that has followed the Japanese manufacturer around again this season.

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