Lewis Hamilton earned pole position for the 2017 Japanese Formula One Grand Prix after finishing ahead of Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel in qualifying at the Suzuka Circuit in Japan on Saturday.

It marks the first time Hamilton, who set a track record three times, has qualified on pole at Suzuka in his career. By contrast, Red Bull Racing disappointed, with Daniel Ricciardo finishing fourth, one place ahead of Max Verstappen.

However, the Red Bulls did earn some good fortune, as Bottas’ impending grid penalty will see the Ricciardo and Verstappen line up on the grid in third and fourth, respectively. The Finn will start in seventh following his punishment.

Sky Sports F1 showed the times for the top 10 after qualifying:

Ferrari had trouble during the third and final practice session, as Kimi Raikkonen incurred a five-place grid penalty after being forced into a gearbox change after a heavy crash, per the F1 official website.

But they weren’t alone, as Mercedes’ Bottas also had to switch out his gearbox, earning him a five-place grid penalty.

Even so, Bottas and Mercedes still set the pace in P3 thanks to smart use of the slower tyres. Meanwhile, McLaren’s Fernando Alonso was hit with a 35-place grid penalty after engine problems forced a costly change, per BBC Sport’s Andrew Benson.

Bottas had another near miss with the barrier early in Q1, with the Formula 1 official Twitter account relaying his flirtation with disaster:

While Hamilton was driving smoothly on the soft tyres, his team-mate was struggling on the supersofts.

As things progressed during the 16-minute opening session, Hamilton, Bottas and Vettel were at the front. However, this trio soon had company in the form of Verstappen.

The Red Bull Racing ace had set the fastest time in the early going, but there was little to choose between the times among the leading quartet as Q1 unfolded:

Further back, a crash involving Haas’ Romain Grosjean saw the red flag raised and brought an end to Q1, with the rest of the drivers unable to complete their laps before the debris was cleared.

Grosjean emerged from the wreckage, per Sky Sports F1:

However, the Frenchman had been eliminated, along with Marcus Ericsson, Lance Stroll, Pierre Gasly and Pascal Wehrlein. Further ahead, it was Hamilton who was top as the session was cut short with a minute and 18 seconds remaining.

Hamilton went out first in Q2, notably going with the supersofts for the new session. Vettel did the same, but he couldn’t get near his championship rival.

In fact, Hamilton was in history-making mood as he smashed the track record, per Channel 4 F1:

Hamilton had now cemented his status as the man to beat, and a first-ever poll at Suzuka surely beckoned. He wasn’t the only Mercedes driver making an impression, though, as Bottas paced Raikkonen into third.

There was a moment of controversy between Hamilton and Williams’ Felipe Massa. The latter thought he’d been blocked by the leader and attempted to return the favour.

Massa still made it through to Q3, despite the perceived block, but Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hulkenberg were among those eliminated after Q2. It was also a better run for Alonso:

Despite starting Q3 well, Red Bull began to slip further off the pace, with Daniel Ricciardo and Verstappen languishing in fourth and fifth, respectively.

There was still time for Bottas to overtake Vettel, although the former’s demotion to seventh will still see the German line up second on the grid for the race on Sunday, elevating the Red Bulls in the process.

But it was Hamilton’s day, and he capped it off by setting yet another lap record:

Afterwards, Hamilton remained cautiously optimistic:

Meanwhile, Vettel described his struggles in Q3:

The Ferrari man will do well to keep pace with Hamilton on Sunday, as the 32-year-old looks unbeatable at present.

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