Hamilton credits team for 'unbelievable' 80th pole position

Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 W09 in qualifying parc ferme.
© XPB 

Lewis Hamilton praised Mercedes for remaining cool under pressure during a tricky qualifying session for the 2018 Japanese Grand Prix and helping him to his 80th career pole position in Formula 1.

"I never in a million years thought I would get 80," he admitted. "I can't believe that I have 80 and I couldn't have done this without the team."

The critical moment of the session came at the start of Q3. The team opted to send Hamilton and his team mate Valtteri Bottas straight out on slick supersofts despite variable conditions at the start of the final top ten pole shoot-out round.

Meanwhile Ferrari dispatched their drivers on intermediates because of the damp track, even though the rain had momentarily abated. It proved to be the wrong call for the Scuderia, one that leaves Sebastian Vettel in a "grim" position for tomorrow's race.

"The call that we made to go out for Q3 [on slicks] which was probably the most difficult call you saw for all of us," Hamilton said after the end of qualifying at Suzuka.

"This team was just spot on with it and gave us the opportunity to grab this pole position," he continued.

"It is so difficult out there to make the right call, but I think that's another real big difference we as a team have made this year.

"Every team has smart people, but ultimately when it comes to being under pressure, making the right decisions, the right calls, that's why we're the best team in the world. And rightly so, they deserve that.

"The team has done an amazing job," he added. "We worked so hard on this car to refine it, to improve it in all areas. And even in ourselves - how we function, the processes we go through, our communication and everything.

"It's really such an honour to race for this team, for the guys and I'm so thankful," he said. "I want to say thank you to everyone back at the factory. I'm so proud to be on this journey with them."

Despite the inclement conditions, Hamilton's pole time of 1:27.760s was still the fastest lap of the weekend so far. He was three tenths ahead of his team mate, who had pipped him to pole seven days ago in Sochi.

"As a team it's absolutely perfect," said Bottas of the overall outcome on Saturday. "The team were really reactive again, with the right decisions with the rain.

Second placed Valtteri Bottas (FIN) Mercedes AMG F1 congratulates his team mate Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 on his 80th pole position

"You need to calculate the risks here when it's wet like this," he explained. "You can't use the kerbs but you still need to be absolutely on the limit.

"I did enjoy that, I just know there were a couple of corners where I could have done a better job.

"For me, practice three this morning was very difficult," he pointed out. "I didn't find the car good at all so we made some changes to build up the confidence. Q2 I was the quickest, Q3 I just had the one lap which was not quite perfect in the middle of the last sector.

Unfortunately, his hopes of improving on his first run - and possibly stealing pole position from Hamilton for the second race in succession - were thwarted when the rain picked up again.

"I was waiting for the second run, but anyway it's not a bad starting position," he said. "Obviously a real shame for everyone that it started raining, but tomorrow should see some sun."

The Mercedes 1-2 lock-out at the front of the grid is made even sweeter by the knowledge that Hamilton's main rival for the world championship will start from ninth position after Ferrari's tyre miscue at the start of Q3.

"It's a pretty grim starting position for him," Mercedes boss Toto Wolff told Sky Sports F1 when asked about Vettel's plight. "He has a fast car, but obviously fighting against Lewis if everything runs well for us then it's going to be difficult off the start."

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