Hamilton takes pole at Japanese GP

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PAPA’S BOY: Lewis Hamilton, who is in prime position to take a decisive lead in the drivers’ championship, shares his joy with his father Anthony, in the paddock.
PAPA’S BOY: Lewis Hamilton, who is in prime position to take a decisive lead in the drivers’ championship, shares his joy with his father Anthony, in the paddock.

Kimi Raikkonnen and Felipe Massa are third and fourth on the starting grid

OYAMA: Lewis Hamilton took the pole position in wet conditions for the Japanese Grand Prix recording the fastest time in a weather-affected qualifying session.

Hamilton did 1 minute 25.368 seconds. His teammate, Fernando Alonso was second with 1:25.438.

It was the fourth pole position for Hamilton this season, including the disputed one when he was moved from second past Alonso at the Hungarian GP after Alonso was penalised for delaying Hamilton.

Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonnen and Felipe Massa were third and fourth.

The Ferrari and McLaren drivers have won all of the 14 races to date with Alonso and Raikkonen taking four each, including splitting the last two.

In the morning, fog cancelled the final practice and threatened to throw the qualifying into doubt. It was foggy until a few minutes before the start.

The sport’s governing body, FIA, requires that a medical helicopter be able to fly in case of accidents. It went up briefly and the cars hurried to the track, but five minutes later the helicopter was grounded because of the weather and the cars stopped and did not resume practice.

Wet conditions

Cars needed the running, not only because of the need to run under wet conditions after Friday’s training was dry, but also because the track is new. The circuit replaced the venue at Suzuka, whose contract ran out last year.

Fuji Speedway, near Mount Fuji, last hosted a Formula One race in 1977 and the circuit has been renovated to prepare for the modern version of Formula One. Hamilton nearly failed to make it into the second session. He was buried in 19th place with less than two minutes to go as the cars kept getting faster with the conditions drying.

His last lap moved him into second to advance him. The last six drivers are dropped in the first two 15-minute sessions.

Ralf Schumacher of Toyota, the only driver with prior experience on the track before this weekend, crashed at the end of the first session. He had made it to the second session but collided with Spyker’s Sakon Yamamato, the slowest driver in the field. Schumacher drove on the circuit last year in a demonstration as the Fuji Speedway is owned by Toyota.

Two-time defending Formula One world champion Alonso has beaten Hamilton in five of the last six races, and the British driver’s one-time 14-point lead has shrunk to just two, 97-95, with three races left in the season.

Hamilton is clinging to the chance to become the first rookie to take the F1 title amid a tumultuous two months that has seen McLaren embroiled in dispute over possession of technical data belonging to rival constructor Ferrari.

After being found guilty by FIA, McLaren was fined $100 million.

Even though Raikkonen and Massa trail the McLaren drivers in the driver standings, Ferrari took its 15th team title when McLaren’s team points were withdrawn.

The drivers kept their points in return for providing evidence against McLaren during the meeting of the World Motor Council on September 13 that was attended by Hamilton but not Alonso.

The grid positions:

1. Lewis Hamilton (McLaren-Mercedes) 1:25.368, 2. Fernando Alonso (McLaren-Mercedes) 1:25.438, 3. Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) 1:25.517, 4. Felipe Massa (Ferrari) 1:25.765, 5. Nick Heidfeld (BMW-Sauber) 1:26.505, 6. Nico Rosberg (Williams) 1:26.728 (will move back 10 places because of engine change), 7. Jenson Button (Honda) 1:26.913, 8. Mark Webber (Red Bull) 1:26.914, 9. Sebastian Vettel (Toro Rosso) 1:26.973, 10. Robert Kubica (BMW-Sauber) 1:27.225 (eliminated after second 15-minute session). 11. Giancarlo Fisichella (Renault) 1:26.033, 12. Heikki Kovalainen (Renault) 1:26.232.

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