Ferrari's Vettel lays down early marker in Japan

Lewis Hamilton leads Sebastian Vettel by 34 points

Lewis Hamilton leads Sebastian Vettel by 34 points

It is Hamilton's 10th pole of the season, extending his record carer tally to 71.

"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.

"It's going to be a different view from the front". It's a real confidence builder as a group, me, my engineer and mechanics. "Each race is just really trying to understand more about the auto because there's constantly something new thrown in the mix, (that) can catch us off guard".

The 30-year-old has avoided a potential five-place grid penalty after his gearbox was given the all-clear ahead of Suzuka, leaving him free to challenge his rival without constraint.

Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas actually qualified second, but will start sixth after a copping a penalty for an unscheduled gearbox change.

"It's incredible to come here with this auto, this vehicle has been one of the greatest, if not the greatest", Hamilton said. My driving was really getting better in qualifying. I think he couldn't see Kimi [Raikkonen] on the inside.

Should Hamilton convert his pole into another GP victory tomorrow, he will take another giant step towards a fourth driver's championship.

"Qualifying has been quite good to be honest".

"Better I don't repeat what I said [when I saw it]", Rosberg told Sky Sports.

'In the last run in Q3 I tried a bit more than there was, ' Vettel explained. Once cars set up that way overtake you, it can be tough to repass them even if you can out-corner them.

The Red Bulls on the other hand were keener to get some running in on the supersoft rubber, although early pace had them down on the leading Mercedes and Ferraris.

Esteban Ocon edged Force India teammate Sergio Perez to finish seventh, while Williams driver Felipe Massa and McLaren-Honda's Fernando Alonso rounded out the top 10.

That's not to say there weren't things to be entertained by, with the teams keeping themselves amused with origami boat races down the rivers that were forming in the pit lane (Stoffel Vandoorne in particular looked a dab hand at this).

Fernando Alonso, who will start from the back of the grid after picking up a 35-place penalty when the team's mechanics fitted his auto with a fresh power unit late on Friday, was eighth fastest.

Hamilton had been on a faster lap midway through the session only for the red flag to come out while he was in the final sector when Bottas crashed at the Spoon Curve. The Haas F1 pilot walked away fine, but ended the opening part of qualifying just on the wrong side of the cut-off in P16.

It meant there was no room for any late improvements, and eliminated along with Grosjean were Toro Rosso's Pierre Gasly, Williams' Lance Stroll, and Sauber duo Marcus Ericsson and Pascal Wehrlein.

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