Formula 1: Hamilton claims his first pole position in Japan
Lewis Hamilton has claimed his first pole position at the Japanese Grand Prix, setting a new lap record of 1:27.319 at the Suzuka International Race Circuit. His time was more than three seconds faster than last year’s pole-setting time of 1:30.647 set by 2016 World Champion Nico Rosberg. This is also the 85th pole position taken by Mercedes.
Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas qualified second, but has incurred a five-place grid penalty due to an unscheduled gearbox change. This promotes the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel into second — meaning the championship rivals Hamilton and Vettel will start on the front row, the 81st time Vettel has started at the front.
Red Bull will also benefit from Bottas’ grid penalties, with Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen qualifying fourth and fifth respectively — they will lock out the second row of the grid being promoted one grid-place each. Kimi Räikkönen qualified sixth for Ferrari but has incurred a five-place grid penalty due to an unscheduled gearbox change, a result of his crash in the third free practice session earlier on Saturday.
Esteban Ocon out-qualified his Force India teammate Sergio Pérez, both drivers ahead of the Williams of Felipe Massa. Fernando Alonso also made it through to Q3 to qualify 10th for McLaren, but has incurred a 35-place grid penalty, having changed the entire Honda power unit overnight after discovering an oil leak. He will start at the back of the grid as a result.
Despite excellent qualifying performances at recent races, Stoffel Vandoorne missed out on making it through to Q3 by just 0.029 seconds, but his McLaren will likely start ninth on the grid when Alonso’s and Räikkönen’s grid-place penalties are applied. Behind Vandoorne are the Renault of Nico Hülkenberg and the Haas of Kevin Magnussen.
Jolyon Palmer followed in the second Renault, but has incurred a 20-place grid penalty as a result of Renault electing to fit a new power unit. Carlos Sainz Jr rounded out the drivers eliminated in Q2, but the Toro Rosso driver has incurred a 20-place grid penalty as a result of taking on new power unit elements, which exceed his season allotment. Palmer and Sainz will start near the back, just ahead of Alonso.
Romain Grosjean’s final attempt to pull himself out of Q1 ended with a massive crash and complaints of oversteer on the iconic esses, causing damage to the nose and front-left wheel of the Haas and the session being red-flagged with 78s remaining. Also eliminated in Q1 were the Toro Rosso of Pierre Gasly, the Williams of Lance Stroll and the Saubers of Marcus Ericsson and Pascal Wehrlein. Stroll complained of being blocked in qualifying by Sergio Pérez, but no action has been taken at the time of writing.
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