Lewis Hamilton has taken pole position for the Japanese Grand Prix in an intense qualifying session that saw mixed weather conditions. Sebastian Vettel was caught out by rain late on in the session and could only manage to finish in ninth place.
Mercedes secured another front row lockout as Valtteri Bottas got his Mercedes into second place. The Finn managed to get the better of Hamilton last weekend in Russia, but was three-tenths slower than the four-time world champion on this occasion.
Max Verstappen will line-up behind the Mercedes and will look to challenge the Silver Arrows on Sunday. Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen was fourth, while Romain Grosjean put in an impressive display to round out the top five.
Daniel Ricciardo dropped out of qualifying after he was struck with an engine issue during Q2. The Australian reported a loss of power and limped backed to the pits where he remained for the rest of the session. The 29-year-old will start the race from P15.
The rain started to fall right at the end of Q2, however it was only a minor, light shower. Slick tyres were still the best option for teams but Ferrari opted to fit the intermediate compound for their first lap in Q3.
But both Vettel and Raikkonen returned to the pits immediately to have the super soft compound fitted when they confirmed it was too dry. In that time, the rest of the competitors set their laps, and Ferrari had to quickly lay down times in order to get themselves up the order.
The duo made a mistake at the same point on the track, rounding the spoon curve. A wet patch forced both drivers off the racing line, with the mistake costing Vettel more than it cost Raikkonen. They went on to complete their laps with Raikkonen climbing to fourth and Vettel into ninth.
The rain then started to fall at the worst time for the Scuderia outfit as it meant that neither could improve their times and attempt to challenge Mercedes. Vettel will have to fight his way to the front on Sunday if he wants to keep his championship hopes alive.
Toro Rosso entered qualifying with the tall task of getting into Q3 with Honda's new engine upgrade. While it proved a challenge, few would have predicted that Brendon Hartley and Pierre Gasly would qualify in sixth and seventh respectively for Sunday's Grand Prix.
Behind the Toro Rosso's was Esteban Ocon who will face a trip to the stewards following an incident during FP3. The Frenchman reportedly didn't slow down efficiently for double waved yellow flags after Nico Hulkenberg crashed into the barriers.
Sergio Perez completed the top ten and was once again out-qualified by teammate Ocon. Lights out for the Japanese Grand Prix is at 14:10 local time on Sunday, as Lewis Hamilton looks to inch ever closer to a fifth world championship.
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