Hamilton on pole in rain-hit qualifying, Vettel only ninth

Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 celebrates pole for the 2018 Japanese Grand Prix
© XPB 

Lewis Hamilton mastered the elements and took his 80th Formula 1 pole position after a qualifying session for the Japanese Grand Prix that was hit by intermittent showers and rain.

Valtteri Bottas made it an all-Mercedes front row, while Max Verstappen will start Sunday's race from third place alongside Kimi Raikkonen.

Ferrari found themselves caught out by the weather in Q3, and Sebastian Vettel will start from a disappointing ninth place on the grid. That's still better than Daniel Ricciardo, who suffered engine issues in Q2 meaning the Red Bull will line-up no better than 15th.

2018 Japanese Grand Prix - Qualifying times

1Lewis HamiltonMercedes1:28.702s1:28.017s1:27.760s
2Valtteri BottasMercedes1:29.297s1:27.987s1:28.059s
3Max VerstappenRed Bull1:29.480s1:28.849s1:29.057s
4Kimi RäikkönenFerrari1:29.631s1:28.595s1:29.521s
5Romain GrosjeanHaas1:29.724s1:29.678s1:29.761s
6Brendon HartleyToro Rosso1:30.248s1:29.848s1:30.023s
7Pierre GaslyToro Rosso1:30.137s1:29.810s1:30.093s
8Esteban OconForce India1:29.899s1:29.538s1:30.126s
9Sebastian VettelFerrari1:29.049s1:28.279s1:32.192s
10Sergio PérezForce India1:30.247s1:29.567s1:37.229s
11Charles LeclercSauber1:29.706s1:29.864s
12Kevin MagnussenHaas1:30.219s1:30.226s
13Carlos SainzRenault1:30.236s1:30.490s
14Lance StrollWilliams1:30.317s1:30.714s
15Daniel RicciardoRed Bull1:29.806s
16Nico HülkenbergRenault1:30.361s
17Sergey SirotkinWilliams1:30.372s
18Fernando AlonsoMcLaren1:30.573s
19Stoffel VandoorneMcLaren1:31.041s
20Marcus EricssonSauber1:31.213s

Fans in the grandstand. 06.10.2018.

As the teams prepared for the start of qualifying, Japan was serving up a random lucky dip when it came to the conditions. Showers surrounded Suzuka ready to strike at any moment, but were holding off for the time being. Instead it was the gusty winds that threatened to have the greatest effect of all as the green light flickered on at the end of pit lane and drivers got to work.

Q1: Hamilton on top as Vettel spins and Ericsson crashes

Stoffel Vandoorne's bright orange McLaren was the first car out, quickly followed by cars from Ferrari, Haas, Williams and Sauber. Running on soft tyres where everyone else was straight on to the faster supersofts, the Belgian driver opened the books with 1:32.170s; however that was quickly eclipsed by Romain Grosjean going over a second and a half faster.

Things got more serious when Sebastian Vettel posted a time of 1:29.049s to put him six tenths ahead of his Ferrari team mate Kimi Raikkonen. Any idea that he might be able to make a second attempt on the same set of were quickly dispelled when he subsequently lost the back end and spun at the hairpin.

Armed with a solid target time to aim for, Lewis Hamilton easily hit the bullseye with a first run clocking in at 1:28.702s, with his Mercedes team mate Valtteri Bottas six tenths back in third place. Red Bull's Max Verstappen put himself into fourth place ahead of Raikkonen, with Daniel Ricciardo in sixth ahead of Force India's Esteban Ocon.

They had just completed their flying laps when a red flag was issued as a result of Marcus Ericsson running off at Dunlop and skating over the gravel before running into the barrier, damaging the rear and front-right of his Sauber in the process and requiring track workers to retrieve the car.

When the session resumed, there were three drivers yet to set a time now in a hurry to do so - including Nico Hulkenberg, who was able to head out in the Renault hastily repaired in the two-hour interval since his late crash in FP3. He put himself into the top ten, although subsequent runs from Kevin Magnussen and Sergio Perez squeezed him down to 11th.

Despite spots of rain teasing the track during the final runs of Q1, there were nonetheless a flurry of significantly improved laps as the chequered flag came out. Hulkenberg found himself in reverse gear and was dumped down to 16th place, ultimately missing out on Q2 by just a few hundredths of a second. Also out was Sergey Sirotkin, but his Williams team mate Lance Stroll dug deep to find enough to avoid elimination.

McLaren's soft compound gamble had failed to pay dividends, and both Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne exited the session. Marcus Ericsson was consigned to the back of the grid after his accident meant he played no further part in the proceedings.

The damaged Sauber C37 of Marcus Ericsson (SWE) Sauber

Q2: Bottas shows his best as Ricciardo expires

Both rain and sunshine were in evidence as the remaining 15 cars headed out for the second round. This time first blood went to Bottas, whose 1:27.987s on the soft compound was just 0.03s ahead of Hamilton. Sticking to the supersofts, Vettel was third fastest albeit still three tenths off the Silver Arrows, with Raikkonen the same margin back again in fourth.

Verstappen took up residence in fifth place, but his team mate was missing in action: Ricciardo was being pushed back down pit lane where mechanics started working feverishly at the back of the car. The problem was too grievous for the Red Bull mechanics to address in the time available, and the threat of even more engine penalties now hangs heavy over the Australian.

"I could hear it didn't sound well," he told reporters. "Things like the turbo and things you don't usually here," adding: "I'm trying to catch a break, but it's not happening."

In Ricciardo's absence, the Force India duo of Ocon and Perez were best of the rest in sixth and seventh, with Grosjean eighth on soft tyres and the two Toro Rossos giving the home Honda fans good reason to celebrate by provisionally taking the remaining places in the pole shoot-out round.

There was still time for one more run, but the window was rapidly closing as more significant rain moved in. It thwarted the efforts of Charles Leclerc, Kevin Magnussen, Carlos Sainz and Lance Stroll to improve their times and all four were duly eliminated, along with the garage-bound Ricciardo.

Daniel Ricciardo (AUS) Red Bull Racing RB14.

Q3: Hamilton on pole as Ferrari caught out by conditions

The rain had stopped but the track was still damp when Q3 opened for business. Ferrari decided to send their drivers out on intermediates but quickly realised that this was a mistake, and called them back for slicks. Mercedes meanwhile were straight out on supersofts.

Hamilton immediately put in a opening offer of 1:27.760s which was three tenths faster than Bottas, with Verstappen over a second back as the conditions started to deteriorate again with another pulse of rain swept Suzuka.

Delayed by their wobble on initial tyre selection, Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen was another half a second back in fourth while Sebastian Vettel could manage only ninth and was 4.4s off Hamilton's provisional pole time.

Now everyone was scrambling to get another lap in, but the weather once again had the final word and the rain picked up again at just the wrong moment for Vettel in particular, who ended up veering off into the gravel on his rain-hit slow-speed final run. It could prove to be the decisive body blow for his 2018 title aspirations.

Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 celebrates his qualifying parc ferme with Romain Grosjean (FRA) Haas F1 Team.

Gallery: The beautiful wives and girlfriends of F1 drivers

Keep up to date with all the F1 news via Facebook and Twitter