Hamilton takes huge step to F1 title despite Vettel's Japan recovery

Hamilton keeps foot down in final Japan practice

When Verstappen was asked whether or not he would want to get in the way of the driver championship battle between Hamilton and Vettel and the constructor championship battle between Mercedes and Ferrari if Raikkonen and/or Vettel are able to catch up to him in tomorrow's race, the 21-year-old Dutchman threw shade at Vettel and Ferrari.

Lewis Hamilton believes Mercedes shows its true class as the best team in Formula 1 when under pressure, as title rival Ferrari made another blunder in Japanese Grand Prix qualifying.

If Hamilton wins the next race in the United States he will be champion with three races to spare in case Vettel finishes lower than second.

Both Vettel and teammate Kimi Räikkönen made it to the final stage of qualifying on Saturday morning, however with the chance of rain set to hit the circuit before the end of the Q3 Ferrari made the call to send both red arrows out onto the dry track with a set of intermediates.

And he drove well in the early laps.

It's a very mixed-up starting grid, but the sight of Romain Grosjean's Haas leading the third row is an intriguing one.

Vettel managed one run on slicks between pitting to get rid of intermediates and the rain coming back, but ran off-track at Spoon.

The safety auto was deployed on lap five after Kevin Magnussen left debris on the track after clashing with Charles Leclerc, however when racing resumed on lap eight, Vettel's valiant efforts were promptly wasted.

The Red Bull has shown strong performance compared to Ferrari over both one lap and a race distance, but while drivers love the high-speed challenge that Suzuka provides, the need for good downforce makes it hard to follow another auto and therefore overtake.

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Vettel dived for the inside, Verstappen half defended but left space.

Verstappen continued without losing much time but Vettel spun to the back of the field and was now consigned to a long afternoon fighting back. Anything could happen tomorrow, tomorrow's a new day. Although Vettel can still match Hamilton's tally of nine race wins this year by winning the season's final four rounds (he now has five victories), the Mercedes driver would still have one more second place to his name (three to two).

The fresh-tyre advantage allowed them to jump Gasly, before Perez caught and passed Grosjean after a virtual safety vehicle called to deal with Charles Leclerc's stricken Sauber.

Verstappen was already carrying a five-second penalty for forcing Vettel's team mate Kimi Raikkonen off the track earlier in the race and would have dropped behind Vettel anyway at the pitstops.

"Keep him [Bottas] under pressure, keep it clean".

Then in a recurring story of the 2018 season, Daniel Ricciardo suffered power unit problems in his Red Bull.

At the front of the queue now sitting between Ricciardo and the top four are Romain Grosjean and the two Toro Rossos of Brendon Hartley and Pierre Gasly - and all three will be nervous about capitalising on opportunities on Sunday. "I am not sure", Verstappen said with a cheeky smile.

He finished 11th in the race on that occasion, unable to better the 10th-place finishes he had at the Azerbaijan and German Grands Prix this year. He's going to do it soon.

"While it was an anticlimax because I couldn't do the last lap it was my 80th pole".

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