Sebastian Vettel put his Ferrari on pole position for the Japanese Grand Prix after beating Charles Leclerc to top spot in Suzuka.
Vettel ended a run of nine qualifying defeats against his team-mate with a track record as Ferrari locked out the front row for Sunday’s race.
Championship leader Lewis Hamilton will start only fourth after Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas out-qualified the Briton for third.
Hamilton, who holds a 73-point championship lead over Bottas with 130 available, improved with his final lap, setting the fastest time of anybody in the final sector, but missed out on usurping his team-mate by nine thousandths of a second.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen starts fifth ahead of team-mate Alex Albon. Both drivers set an identical time, but the Dutchman lines up ahead of Albon having crossed the line first.
The shootout for pole was pushed back a day after Suzuka was put on lockdown following the arrival in Japan of Super Typhoon Hagibis.
Saturday’s torrential rain made way for a sunny day, but the high wind remained.
Mercedes dominated practice here on Friday, but Ferrari, who have been the team to beat since the summer break, bounced back in qualifying.
Leclerc has led Ferrari’s resurgence, bidding here to secure his fifth consecutive pole, but it was Vettel who got the best out of his Ferrari, finishing 0.189 sec clear of the Monegasque.
“It was not easy,” said Vettel. “The conditions were different to what we had on Friday. We are surprised. We didn’t expect to have the front row.
“It is only part of the job done. I look forward to this afternoon.”
Leclerc added: “Seb did an amazing lap and he deserves to be on pole. I have been struggling since the beginning of the weekend but I was happy with my lap.”
Qualifying was suspended twice after Robert Kubica, and then Kevin Magnussen crashed at the final corner.
The action was barely a few minutes old, when the gusts of wind appeared to contribute to Kubica running wide on to the grass, causing him to lose control of his Williams.
The Pole slammed backwards into the barrier, sustaining extensive damage to his car. Kubica walked away unscathed from the incident, but his Williams team are facing a tall order to get his car ready for the race.
The session was immediately red-flagged to retrieve Kubica’s stricken Williams and clear debris from the track.
But moments after it resumed, Magnussen crashed at the same bend. The Danish driver sustained damage to his Haas, but, unlike Kubica, was able to make it back to the pits. There are doubts whether his car can be rebuilt in time for the race, which will start less than three hours after qualifying finished.
British teenager Lando Norris will line up eighth in his McLaren, one spot behind team-mate Carlos Sainz.
Know more about Sport360 Application
Lewis Hamilton trailed Valtteri Bottas in what could prove a pivotal final practice session for the Japanese Grand Prix.
With Super Typhoon Hagibis looming, circuit officials at Suzuka took the decision to postpone qualifying until the morning of Sunday’s race when conditions are forecast to have improved.
But if the track remains too dangerous for the cars to run, the final running here on Friday will determine the grid.
Bottas, who trails Hamilton in the championship by 73 points with only 130 available, finished 0.100 seconds clear of Mercedes team-mate Hamilton with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen third.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel put on fresh tyres in the closing stages of practice. And although the pair improved their times, they finished only fourth and fifth respectively.
Ferrari have been the team to beat since the summer break, but Mercedes dominated practice here at a venue in which they are unbeaten at since 2014.
The Mercedes cars are armed with upgrades, and look well placed to extend their Japanese winning record into a sixth successive year.
Surprisingly, perhaps, it was Bottas’ name, and not Hamilton’s, at the top of the time charts in both sessions.
Bottas spun at the final corner, but was able to recover to edge out his Mercedes team-mate.
Hamilton heads into Sunday’s race needing to outscore Bottas by a mere five points over the next two races – here at Suzuka and in Mexico in a fortnight’s time – to secure his sixth world championship.
His Mercedes team, meanwhile, can wrap up their sixth consecutive constructors’ title as early as Sunday if they score 15 more points than Ferrari here. It is a scenario which looks possible after Leclerc and Vettel finished behind both Mercedes drivers, and Verstappen, too.
Verstappen, cheered on by large chunks of the crowd in Suzuka, given that Red Bull are powered by Japanese manufacturer Honda, finished three tenths adrift of Bottas.
The Dutchman’s team-mate Alex Albon finished sixth ahead of Carlos Sainz for McLaren. British teenager Lando Norris was 10th, three tenths slower than his Spanish team-mate.
British rookie George Russell propped up the order for Williams.
Formula One heads to Suzuka this week for the Japanese Grand Prix.
With just five rounds remaining, Lewis Hamilton holds a 73-point championship lead over Valtteri Bottas.
Here, the PA looks at five talking points ahead of Sunday’s race.
Hamilton ready to deliver knockout blow
Hamilton cannot win the championship in Japan, but a victory would put him in the driving seat to close out his sixth world title at the Mexican Grand Prix in a fortnight’s time.
Hamilton needs to outscore Mercedes team-mate Bottas by just five points over the next two races to move out of the Finn’s reach. C
harles Leclerc and Max Verstappen are 107 and 110 points behind Hamilton respectively with only 130 to play for.
Sebastian Vettel is 128 points adrift of the Briton, who prepared for this weekend’s race by watching the Toronto Raptors see off the Houston Rockets in an NBA pre-season match at Tokyo’s Saitama Arena on Tuesday night.
Mercedes armed with upgrades to contain Ferrari challenge
Hamilton may have won last time out in Sochi, but Mercedes have been off the pace of Ferrari since the summer break.
Indeed, the Italian team should have made it four out of four, only for Vettel to break down and the ensuing virtual safety car to deny Leclerc a certain win.
Mercedes, who will wrap up a remarkable sixth consecutive constructors’ championship on Sunday if they outscore Ferrari by 15 points, have won every race staged in Japan since 2014. And they will tackle the 17th round of the campaign with some much-needed upgrades on their car.
“The win in Sochi doesn’t change the fact that Ferrari had a stronger start to the second part of the season than we did,” said Toto Wolff, the Mercedes team principal.
“We’ll bring some minor upgrades to the car in Japan which will hopefully help us take a step in the right direction.”
What next for Vettel?
Vettel is fighting to save his Ferrari future after he resisted multiple orders to move aside for team-mate Leclerc at the last race.
Leclerc, who could secure a fifth straight pole position on Saturday, has emerged as the team’s main man, and how Ferrari manage their two drivers will prove an intriguing sub-plot for the remainder of the season.
Four-time world champion Vettel will have been wounded by the team orders debacle in Russia, but he must stop the rot in Suzuka.
The German has been out-qualified by Leclerc at the last nine rounds, while the young Monegasque is 21 points ahead of him in the championship, too.
Suzuka braced for super typhoon
The schedule in Japan could be disrupted by super typhoon Hagibis, which is set to hit Suzuka this weekend.
The storm will bring violent winds and heavy rain, and current forecasts suggest it will be at its most disruptive on Saturday.
As such, qualifying could be delayed or postponed until the morning of Sunday’s race.
The FIA is monitoring the situation and liaising with circuit officials.
Five years ago in Japan, Jules Bianchi hit a recovery crane in torrid conditions before succumbing to his injuries nine months later.
Red Bull in spotlight at Honda’s home race
Verstappen has created one of the biggest followings in the sport, and he will take centre stage this weekend when he leads Honda’s charge on home turf.
Verstappen’s Red Bull is powered by the Japanese manufacturer and, in the absence of a home driver, an expected sell-out crowd will be rallying behind the young Dutchman instead.
Provided by Press Association Sport