Hamilton Takes 80th Pole in Japan
SUZUKA, Japan—R.I. S.—Lewis Hamilton might have had another successful pole for Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix at the legendary Suzuka circuit, but the late rains were good enough on Saturday to halt any challengers as the Briton recorded a 1:27:760 fastest time ahead of teammate Valtteri Bottas and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
This pole for Hamilton is the 80th for the Briton, and he credits the situation to the success of the team coming under better stressful situations than their rivals.
“It is so difficult out there to make the call but I think that's another real big difference we've made this year.” Hamilton said. “Every team has smart people but ultimately when it comes to being under pressure, making the right decisions and the right calls, that's why we are the best team in the world and rightly so, they (Mercedes) deserve that."
Hamilton set his best lap just at the beginning of the final session, when storm clouds coming from leftovers of a passing typhoon around the island, were holding firm. Following Hamilton’s fastest lap, which happened on slick tires, others jumped into the pits to install the same rubber, especially for both Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel, who made an error in installing intermediates. However, with three minutes remaining, the rain finally came, and for others to best the Briton’s time failed. The impossibility to find grip, which resulted in many spins, made Hamilton shake his head in surprise, while Vettel could do no better than ninth, making his attempt of winning Sunday’s race more difficult, in any hopes to challenge Hamilton for the world driving championship.
Some top drivers could never attempt to reach the final session, as Nico Hulkenberg, Fernando Alonso, Haas F1 team’s Kevin Magnussen, Carlos Sainz Jr. were all eliminated early. Marcus Ericsson spun his Sauber at Dunlop corner in the opening session, putting out a red flag with just under ten minutes left. Daniel Ricciardo had an engine power failure in the following session, and for the fifth time in seven races, failed to advance to the final ten.
But there were many new names in the top ten, as Raikkonen ended up fourth, while the American Haas F1 Team had Romain Grosjean take his best grid position of his career in fifth. The home crowd cheered both Honda engine drivers Brendon Hartley and Pierre Gasly, who finished in sixth and seventh, respectively. Esteban Ocon was eighth, and his Force India teammate Sergio Perez rounded up the grid in tenth.
Hamilton continued saying that things have changed since Austria, when Ferrari held a 10-point lead in the constructor’s championship but have slid ever since then. And most important, experience counts.
"I think with experience that does come," he said. "We've all been together for quite some time, pretty much the same group of guys and at this point of the year you would hope you were more knowledgeable and able to be better at making decisions. I definitely think the team has been much more focused and still on it."
JAPANESE GRAND PRIX
At Suzuka International Circuit, Suzuka, Japan
Final Qualifying Results
1 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes—1:27:760
2 Valtteri Bottas (FIN) Mercedes
3 Max Verstappen (NED) Red Bull Racing
4 Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Ferrari
5 Romain Grosjean (FRA) Haas F1 Team
6 Brendon Hartley (NZL) Toro Rosso
7 Pierre Gasly (FRA) Toro Rosso
8 Esteban Ocon (FRA) Force India
9 Sebastian Vettel (GER) Ferrari
10 Sergio Perez (MEX) Force India
11 Charles LeClerc (FRA) Sauber
12 Kevin Magnussen (DEN) Haas F1 Team
13 Carlos Sainz Jr. (SPA) Renault
14 Lance Stroll (CDN) Williams
15 Daniel Ricciardo (AUS) Red Bull Racing
16 Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Renault
17 Sergey Sirotkin (RUS) Williams
18 Fernando Alonso (SPA) McLaren
19 Stoffel Vandoorne (BEL) McLaren
20 Marcus Ericsson (SWE) Sauber
A 16 year veteran of writing formula one racing weekend race reports, features and team launches, Mark has worked for such companies as all-sports, e-sports, The Munich Eye newspaper in Germany, racingnation.com and Autoweek. A former member for this site four years ago, Mark now is a contributor for R.I.S.