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Lewis Hamilton seals his 80th pole position in Japan with a supreme lap around the Suzuka track

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.

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?

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