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Hamilton takes emphatic maiden Suzuka pole


Ahead of today's qualifying session, the air temperature is 23 degrees C, while the track temperature is 27 degrees.

Valtteri Bottas was the pace-setter in final practice earlier, but promptly went off and clouted the barrier, leaving crew with much to do over the break.

Indeed, on a bad morning for Finns, countryman Kimi Raikkonen went off also, albeit causing considerably more work for his crew. Indeed, moments before the start of Q1 crew members are swarming over the SF70H like worker bees.

Bottas led a Mercedes 1-2 in FP3, and while Sebastian Vettel was just 0.32s behind, the Silver Arrows posted their best times on the yellow-banded soft rubber.

The Red Bulls of Verstappen and Ricciardo were fourth and fifth, the pair running different set-ups, but with an eye on the engine changes for Sainz and Palmer there are fears that other Renault users could be facing grid penalties over the course of the weekend.

Indeed, other than Sainz and Palmer, so far Alonso and Bottas have also incurred grid penalties that further hamper their chances on Sunday, while a gearbox change during the break sees Raikkonen take a hit also.

A late very impressive lap saw Esteban Ocon claim sixth, while Nico Hulkenberg seems doomed to forever finish practice sessions in seventh position.

The midfield looks as tight as ever, though Haas appears to be struggling here, and will be hard pushed to get both cars into Q2, while Williams and Toro Rosso are looking doubtful to get a car past Q2.

Photo-op the decade has to be a fan bearing a Liberty banner (why?) and another that sports a Chase Carey moustache (again, why?) posing with the man himself. WHY?

Having taken pole for the last three years, and no slouches this season, the odds are clearly in favour of Mercedes making it four in a row. That said, it was Nico Rosberg who scored those poles.

Hamilton is among the first out, the Briton immediately complaining of oil on the track, albeit covered in cement dust. Vettel is another early rise, along with Wehrlein, Gasly and Ericsson.

Meanwhile, work continues on Raikkonen's car, under the beady-eyed supervision of Maurizio Arrivabene.

All are on supers thus far, bar Hamilton and Vettel who are on softs.

Wehrlein posts 33.288 but this is immediately eclipsed by Hamilton and his 29.507. Ericsson posts 32.217 and Gasly 31.317.

Vettel can only manage 29.772, 0.265s off the pace.

Whoa! Bottas runs wide in Degner 2 after doing a Raikkonen and carrying too much speed. However, unlike his countryman he keeps it out of the barriers and continues. Prior to that he was quickest in S1.

"Everything okay with the car?" Bottas is asked. "Yeah all good," he replies.

With 11:20 remaining, Raikkonen heads out as Bottas posts 48.943.

Bottas improves to second with a 29.332 as Perez goes fourth and Ocon fifth.

Vettel improves to within 0.027s of Hamilton as the Red Bulls begin their flying laps.

Verstappen posts 29.181, having been quickest in S1, while Ricciardo can only manage 5th (29.475).

Raikkonen posts 29.614 to go sixth, just 0.433s off the pace after all that work.

Hamilton and Vettel remain the only drivers on the soft rubber.

A 29.047 sees Hamilton re-take the top spot, as Massa goes ninth (30.352) ahead of Alonso.

"I got blocked again," screams Stroll referring to the Pink Panther up ahead.

Hulkenberg posts 3.252 to go ninth, while teammate Palmer slots into eleventh with a 30.516.

Along with the Saubers, the drop zone comprises Grosjean, Gasly and Stroll, with Magnussen, Vandoorne and Sainz hovering.

The Haas duo head out for another try, the duo subsequently joined by a whole load of others, only the Mercedes, Bulls, Ferraris and Perez not coming out to play again it seems.

Perez is under investigation for impeding Stroll as attention switches to Grosjean who is off and in the barriers in The Esses in what is a very big crash.

The Haas driver is OK, which is more than can be said of his car.

Understandably, the session is red flagged which is bad news for Grosjean, Gasly, Stroll and the Saubers who are all out.

Though there is 1:18 remaining, Race Control confirms it is not worth re-starting the session.

Replay shows the Haas almost impossible to keep on the black stuff. The car touches the kerb and subsequently snaps one way and then another before slamming into the barriers. "OK, something wrong on the car," reports Grosjean. "Big shunt, massive oversteer, I don't know what happened."

Quickest is Hamilton, ahead of Raikkonen, Verstappen, Bottas, Vettel, Ricciardo, Perez, Ocon, Hulkenberg and Massa.

The start of Q2 is delayed until 15:30.

The lights go green, and after a minute or so it is Hamilton who gets things underway. The Briton is now on supers, while Raikkonen, who is next out, is on softs. Vettel and Sainz also on supers.

Despite running a little wide at the exit of Spoon, Hamilton is quickest in all three sectors, crossing the line at 27.819. Raikkonen can only manage 29.079, albeit on the softs.

Bottas heads out, like his countryman, on the yellow-banded soft rubber.

Vettel posts 28.482, but is 0.663s off Hamilton's pace.

Verstappen goes third (28.747) and Ricciardo fourth (28.935) but both are demoted when Bottas crosses the line at 28.543.

Behind the usual suspects, Ocon goes seventh with a 29.571.

Masa goes eighth with a 29.687 as Perez is the last driver to post a time, the Mexican stopping the clock at 29.609

Massa clearly isn't happy when he loses time to Hamilton, who is on a slow down lap, the Brazilian makes his frustration clear.

Ahead of their final runs, the drop zone comprises Sainz, Magnussen, Palmer, Hulkenberg and Alonso, while Vandoorne, Massa and Perez are not entirely safe.

Despite his 0.66s advantage over Vettel, Hamilton is among the first to head out for another run. Indeed, only Raikkonen and the Bulls appear happy with their times, all three opting to stay put.

Only Ocon improves in S1, until Hamilton goes even quicker than before.

Ocon improves (29.199) but remains seventh, while Hulkenberg fails to improve and misses the cut.

Alonso goes tenth, as Perez goes eighth.

Hamilton dives into the pits having gone quickest in the first two sectors.

Palmer fails to improve meaning that both Renaults are out, while Vettel closes to within 0.406s of his title rival.

Quickest is Hamilton, ahead of Vettel, Bottas, Verstappen, Ricciardo, Raikkonen, Ocon, Perez, Massa and Alonso.

We lose Vandoorne, Hulkenberg, Magnussen, Palmer and Sainz.

Check out our Saturday gallery from Suzuka, here.


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