Lewis Hamilton claimed the 80th pole of his career in Japan – before bowing to his car in disbelief at reaching the landmark.
The Mercedes man, who leads the standings by 50 points with 125 on offer, dodged the rain that came towards the end of the session. But Ferrari did not – their error condemning Sebastian Vettel, with an extra mistake of his own, only ninth on the grid.
The title is tipping further Hamilton’s way.
Vettel was put out on intermediates when everyone else was on slick at the start of the third session. It was a misjudgement, with it still essentially dry. Hamilton immediately put his car on provisional pole. Vettel came back in for dries, no time set.
But, re-shod, he then veered off track as he tried to set a respectable time. Then more rain fell and times slowed. Vettel went off again.
So it ended up a Mercedes lockout of the front row, with Hamilton three-tenths faster than Bottas. ‘I can’t believe I have got to 80,’ said the Brit. ‘It is an honour to be part of this team. I have believed in a million years I would get to 80.’
Max Verstappen was third and Kimi Raikkonen in the other Ferrari fourth.
JAPANESE GRAND PRIX QUALIFYING RESULT
1 Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes 1:27.760
2 Bottas (FIN) Mercedes 1:28.059
3 Verstappen (NED) Red Bull 1:29.057
4 Raikkonen (FIN) Ferrari 1:29.521
5 Grosjean (FRA) Haas 1:29.761
6 Hartley (NZL) Toro Rosso 1:30.023
7 Gasly (FRA) Toro Rosso 1:30.093
8 Ocon (FRA) Force India 1:30.126
9 Vettel (GER) Ferrari 1:32.192
10 Perez (MEX) Force India 1:37.229
11 Leclerc (MON) Sauber 1:29.864
12 Magnussen (DEN) Haas 1:30.226
13 Sainz (SPA) Renault 1:30.490
14 Stroll (CAN) Williams 1:30.714
15 Ricciardo (AUS) Red Bull No Time
16 Hulkenberg (GER) Renault 1:30.361
17 Sirotkin (RUS) Williams 1:30.372
18 Alonso (SPA) McLaren 1:30.573
19 Vandoorne (BEL) McLaren 1:31.041
20 Ericsson (SWE) Sauber 1:31.213
Vettel had said the moment he emerged from the garage that he thought it was not wet enough for the inters. But it was too late by then, and Mercedes again showed they are the ones making the right decisions at crunch times.
McLaren, in the worst form of the team’s distinguished life, should be taken out and shot after their cars were slowest on display. Saved from the foot of the table by the careless Marcus Ericcson crashing his Sauber again, Fernando Alonso was 18th quickest and Stoffel Vandoorne 19th.
There is no respite from their problems, no sign of a dawn.
It makes one fear for Lando Norris, the young Briton who is being given his Formula One debut there next season. Will his career survive such ineptitude?