Suzuka, October 6: Lewis Hamilton's dominance at this week's Japanese Grand Prix continued after the reigning champion claimed pole position and Ferrari rival Sebastian Vettel's fading title hopes were dealt a blow.
Mercedes star Hamilton will start from the front of the grid for the 80th time in his illustrious Formula One career thanks to his benchmark time of one minute, 27.760 seconds, while Vettel (+4.432s) was only ninth fastest at Suzuka.
Hamilton has dominated from the outset in Japan, the British driver a class above in all three practice sessions and it was more of the same as he earned pole before rain hit during the final minutes.
Mercedes locked out the front row after Valtteri Bottas – fastest in Q2 – recorded a time of 1:28.059, with Red Bull's Max Verstappen (+1.297s) snatching third for Sunday's race.
Conditions were tricky in Japan, where the changing weather and swirling wind wreaked havoc with Ferrari and Vettel.
Vettel needs to overturn a 50-point deficit with only five races remaining and his performance on Saturday left Hamilton and Mercedes in prime position to move towards further silverware.
Anticipating rain, Ferrari sent Vettel and team-mate Kimi Raikkonen out on intermediate tyres for Q3 after rain hit in Q2, but the track had dried and the team were left scrambling to change back over to slicks.
Vettel, who span out early in an unusual mistake, dropped down to ninth and was forced to abandon his final lap, though Raikkonen managed to sneak in a time to start fourth.
Meanwhile, it was another frustrating outing for Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo, who dropped out in Q2 after reporting a loss of power before setting a time. He will start 15th.
1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:27.760 2. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) +0.299s 3. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) +1.297s 4. Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) +1.761s 5. Romain Grosjean (Haas) +2.001s 6. Brendon Hartley (Toro Rosso) +2.263s 7. Pierre Gasly (Toro Rosso) +2.333s 8. Esteban Ocon (Racing Point Force India) +2.366s 9. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) +4.432s 10. Sergio Perez (Racing Point Force India) +9.469s