Lewis Hamilton takes pole in Japan after ‘stubborn’ car behaves

Championship leader has chance to extend 34-point gap over Sebastian Vettel

Lewis Hamilton in action during qualifying for the Grand Prix of Japan at Suzuka. Photograph: Clive Mason/Getty Images

Lewis Hamilton in action during qualifying for the Grand Prix of Japan at Suzuka. Photograph: Clive Mason/Getty Images

 

Lewis Hamilton stormed to pole position for the Japanese Grand Prix as his temperamental Mercedes decided to play nice at Suzuka.

The championship leader has a great chance to build on the 34-point gap he holds over closest challenger Sebastian Vettel after a fine showing on Saturday.

No one could get close to Hamilton as the three-time world champion broke the lap record on his way to his maiden pole around this circuit.

Hamilton’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas came closest but he starts sixth after an unscheduled gearbox change saw him hit with a five-place grid penalty.

That means the Ferrari of Vettel will now start alongside Hamilton – who labelled his car “stubborn” on Thursday as it has only been performing at its best during specific conditions of late.

Team boss Toto Wolff called this year’s car “capricious” in Malaysia last weekend where Hamilton took pole and finished second despite both Ferrari and Red Bull having better pace than Mercedes.

Now the 32-year-old wants his car – also likened to a “diva” by Wolff – to stay with him as he looks to increase his championship lead.

“Definitely,” Hamilton replied when asked if his car had paid him back for being unpredictable in recent months.

“Qualifying for me is probably the most enjoyable part of the weekend so being able to put together laps like today, it is the one you wait for all weekend.

“Q3, run one and two, are really what motorsport is all about – it is about ultimate performance from myself but also the car.

“So it is definitely great when she comes together on days like that and it is important because if we were on the back-foot here it wouldn’t be a great position to be in. Let’s hope she’s not stubborn tomorrow.”

Hamilton can finally add Suzuka to the growing list of circuits where he has started from the front and he paid tribute to his Mercedes team for helping him achieve his record 71st pole.

“It was definitely a fantastic session,” he added. “How your team time everything, in terms of what time you go out, positioning, preparation with the mechanics, all that stuff has to work perfectly and the team were so on form, as they always are.”

After crashing out at the first corner in Singapore and recovering from last on the grid to finish fourth last weekend in Malaysia, Vettel is expecting a close fight on Sunday.

“I’m pretty happy to be honest,” he said. “It was a positive day I think the car should be a bit better in the race. We will see. I don’t know what sort of pace they [Mercedes] will have, they have been a bit up and down, so far this year has been very close and I expect it to be very close tomorrow.”

The Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen will start on the second row while Esteban Ocon is fifth for Force India.

Bottas is now sixth ahead of the second Force India of Sergio Perez, while Felipe Massa’s Williams, the McLaren and Stoffel Vandoorne and the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen complete the top 10.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.