By Abhishek Takle
SUZUKA, Japan (Reuters) – Sebastian Vettel set a scorching lap to seize pole position for Sunday’s Japanese Formula One Grand Prix beating team mate Charles Leclerc who completed a front row lockout for Ferrari.
Vettel, outqualified by Leclerc for the last nine races, lapped the 5.8-kilometer track in a record time of one minute, 27.064 seconds to pip his 21-year-old Monegasque team mate by 0.189 seconds.
Valtteri Bottas, who had topped every session of track action until the final top 10 qualifying shootout was third ahead of team mate Lewis Hamilton with the Mercedes pair locking out the second row of the grid.
Hamilton, who has won five times in Japan including four at Suzuka, leads Bottas by 73 points in the overall standings with five races to go.
The pole was the 57th of Vettel’s career and only second this season.
It also hands Ferrari their fifth pole in a row with Leclerc starting the last four races from the front.
Qualifying took place at a sunny Suzuka on Sunday morning after being postponed from its usual Saturday slot due to the approach of Typhoon Hagibis.
Drivers and teams will now face a quick turnaround with the race set to start as planned at 2.10 pm local time (0510 GMT).
Vettel, who has come under pressure from the younger Leclerc, has won four times at Suzuka and will be hoping to carry his formidable form into the race later on Sunday.
Ferrari will be hoping to avoid a repeat of the last race in Russia where tensions between their drivers threatened to boil over while they were running first and second.
Mercedes, who have started from pole and won the last five races in Suzuka, have a shot at clinching a record-equalling sixth constructors’ title later on Sunday.
But, needing to score 14 points more than Ferrari to get the job done, the battle will stay alive until the next race in Mexico if they finish as they qualified.
Max Verstappen will start fifth for Red Bull ahead of team mate Alexander Albon with the Red Bull drivers starting engine supplier Honda’s home race from the third row of the grid.
(Reporting by Abhishek Takle; editing by Amlan Chakraborty)