Formula One leader Lewis Hamilton smashed the Suzuka track record to seize a dominant Japanese Grand Prix pole position on Saturday with Ferrari rival Sebastian Vettel lining up alongside on the front row.
The Mercedes driver produced a stunning fastest lap of one minute and 27.319 seconds for his first pole at the 5.8km track and 71st of his career.
The time shattered seven times world champion Michael Schumacher’s previous outright best at the circuit by 1.6 seconds.
His team mate Valtteri Bottas was second quickest, 0.332 seconds adrift but drops five places down the grid due to an unscheduled gearbox change.
The penalty will elevate Vettel to the front row of the grid, putting the two title contenders side by side for Sunday’s heavyweight battle between multiple champions.
Hamilton, who leads the German by 34 points with just five races to go. Saturday was his 10th pole of the season and marked a convincing return to the top of the timesheets for Mercedes after the champions struggled for pace at the last two races in Singapore and Malaysia.
Australian Daniel Ricciardo set the fourth-fastest time ahead of Red Bull team-mate Max Verstappen, winner in Malaysia last weekend.
The pair will fill the second row but were about a second off Hamilton’s pace.
Kimi Raikkonen, who will also drop five places on the grid for an unscheduled gearbox change after a crash in Saturday morning’s final practice session, set the sixth fastest time.
Esteban Ocon was seventh-quickest for Force India ahead of Mexican team-mate Sergio Perez, Williams Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso, who completed the top 10 for McLaren.