Suzuka (Japan): Championship leader Lewis Hamilton secured pole position for the Japanese Grand Prix, leading a 1-2 finish for Mercedes drivers on Friday. Hamilton posted a lap record time of 1 minute, 27.319 seconds to finish 0.332 ahead of Valtteri Bottas.
Hamilton’s title rival, Sebastian Vettel, was third but the Ferrari driver will move up to second after Bottas’s penalty for an unscheduled gearbox change. Bottas drops to seventh. Hamilton struggled for pace in the previous race in Malaysia but that wasn’t the case in Saturday’s qualifying.
“It’s been a really great day, every lap was fantastic, I never really got a great balance in the past so never did a great qualifying here,” Hamilton said.
Before Saturday’s qualifying, Hamilton had secured pole at every current F1 circuit except Suzuka.
“It’s incredible for me, 10 years or whatever it is and my first pole at Suzuka,” Hamilton said. With five races remaining, Hamilton leads Vettel by 34 points in the drivers’ championship. Hamilton has won twice before here at Suzuka, in 2014 and 2015, and was runner-up to Nico Rosberg last year.
A win in Suzuka would move Hamilton a step closer to a third F1 title in four years with Mercedes and his fourth overall. Vettel was happy to be on the front row after starting the Malaysia GP from the back of the grid and working his way up to a fourth-place finish. “The car is quick and, as last weekend shows, if you start out of position you can still get back,” Vettel said.
Penalties for Bottas, Alonso
Fernando Alonso will incur a 35-place grid penalty and start this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix last after changing his engine, McLaren said on Saturday.
Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas will also receive a five-place grid penalty after the Finn was forced to make a gearbox change to his car.
McLaren broke a late-night curfew to switch components to the Honda power unit after discovering a hydraulic leak after Friday practice. Alonso’s struggling car will now have its eighth engine of a troubled season, its 10th turbocharger and seventh battery, among other changes, for Honda’s home race. The penalty sends the double world champion to the back of the grid....