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Hamilton snags Japan pole; rival Vettel 9th

AFPSUZUKA, Mie (AFP-Jiji) — World champion Lewis Hamilton roared to pole position for the Japanese Grand Prix as Ferrari rival Sebastian Vettel slumped to ninth after a horror showing in Saturday’s qualifying.

Lewis, who leads Vettel by 50 points with five races left this season, led a Mercedes front-row lockout and will start as the hot favorite to tighten his stranglehold on the Formula One championship in Sunday’s race at Suzuka.

The Briton’s record-extending 80th career pole never looked in doubt after his rampant form in completing a clean sweep of free practice earlier in the day.

“I can’t believe I have 80 poles,” said Hamilton, who has won five of the last six races.

“Never in a million years did I think I’d get 80. When it comes to being under pressure and making the right decisions, that’s why we are the best team in the world.”

Ferrari’s decision to begin Q3 on intermediate tires instead of supersofts backfired spectacularly as the rain they expected held off just long enough for Hamilton to set a fastest lap of one minute, 27.760 seconds — three-tenths quicker than team-mate Valtteri Bottas.

Vettel skidded off twice in his desperation to set a time and his starting position will be his lowest of a season which began so brightly but looks like ending in bitter disappointment.

“This is not the position we deserve to be in,” insisted the German, who realistically needs victory to keep alive his fading hopes of pipping Hamilton to a fifth world title.

“I think we have better pace than ninth so I’m not too worried.”

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