SUZUKA, MIE PREF. - 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 1 minute, 27.319 seconds with Valtteri Bottas second fastest.
However, Vettel will join Hamilton on the front row after Bottas incurred a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change on Friday.
“The car is crazy here,” said Hamilton after his 71st career pole, and first at Suzuka Circuit.
“Every lap was fantastic. I’m running out of opportunities to get this pole so I made sure I made it stick today.”
A three-time race winner in Japan, Hamilton’s dominant qualifying performance dented Vettel’s fading title hopes after the German set the early pace in Friday’s rain-hit practice.
“I tried everything on that last lap as I knew I had to take a bit more risks,” Vettel said. “I knew that we’d be on front row because of Valtteri’s penalty so I’m pretty happy.”
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo was fourth fastest, ahead of teammate Max Verstappen, who won in Malaysia last week.
Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen qualified sixth quickest, but will also be demoted five places after switching his gearbox following a shunt in Saturday’s practice.