A fine display from Mercedes in tricky conditions earned Lewis Hamilton pole for Formula 1 Japanese Grand Prix from Valtteri Bottas and Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel ending up only ninth.
The first part of qualifying under dry conditions saw Hamilton head the pack from Vettel and Bottas but it included an uncharacteristic spin for the German at Turn 11 when Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson also crashed out a few moments later.
The Swede went in quick in Turn 7 and lost control to crash into the barrier. He had a slower car ahead but Ericsson took the blame for the hit. He looked good in practice sessions considering the experience he has in Japan but will start last.
Also missing Q2 was Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg despite the team having fixed the car following his crash in FP3. He was pushed to 16th after an improvement from Carlos Sainz. Williams’ Sergey Sirotkin (1m30.372s) finished 17th.
With Ericsson in 20th, the two McLaren had a dreadful time once again with Fernando Alonso (1m30.573s) in 18th and Stoffel Vandoorne (1m31.041s) in 19th.
The second session had Bottas ahead of Hamilton with Vettel completing the Top 3 at the front of the field but crucially both the Mercedes set their best time on the soft compound. Despite being on the faster tyre, Vettel could only manage a third place finish.
Also setting their fastest lap on the soft compound was the Haas duo Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen with the Frenchman making it through Q3 and will have a strategy advantage like Mercedes to start on the soft tyre.
The rain towards the end of the session did not allow for improvements from the drivers around as Sauber’s Charles Leclerc (1m29.864s) was the first one outside the Top 10. Magnussen (1m30.226s) slotted in 12th from Sainz (1m30.490s).
After a mighty effort from Stroll (1m30.714s) to get into Q2, the Canadian did well in 14th ahead of Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo, who suffered power issues in the session to be knocked out without even setting a lap time.
The strategy went wrong for Ferrari again in the final part of qualifying as they sent Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen out on the intermediate tyres for their first run when all others went out on the supersoft compound.
They had to dive in to the pits to change to supersoft compromising their runs, while it was another slick work from Mercedes as they banked in their quick laps with Hamilton (1m27.760s) taking pole in the end from Bottas (1m28.059s) in a Mercedes 1-2.
The rain deprived everyone from improving with Verstappen (1m29.057s) slotting in third from Raikkonen (1m29.521s) and Grosjean (1m29.761s) as Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley (1m30.023s) registered his best result in sixth.
The Kiwi not only beat some of the regular Top 10 contenders but even his teammate Pierre Gasly (1m30.093s), who was seventh from Racing Point Force India’s Esteban Ocon (1m30.126s) in a fine day for Honda in their home race.
Title contender Vettel (1m32.192s) had his hopes dashed with only a ninth place finish after a mistake on his quick lap. The German was left with little time to improve with the rain falling. Racing Point Force India’s Sergio Perez (1m37.229s) rounded the Top 10.