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Japan Grand Prix: Hamilton dominates free practice sessions

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The helmet of Pierre Gasly Scuderia Toro Rosso

Hamilton secured the 80th pole position of his F1 career at Suzuka in a tricky Q3 session where changeable conditions gave teams timing and tyre choice headaches.

Sebastian Vettel tore into Red Bull's Max Verstappen for a hair-raising collision in Japan on Sunday that all but killed off the German's fading Formula 1 title hopes.

It was a disappointing afternoon for Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo who ended up 15th after failing to set a time in the second qualifying, heading into the pits at the end of his outlap with what appeared to be an engine problem. Vettel knew he had to win here but after qualifying badly the odds were already against him. Lewis Hamilton on the other side (at the time of writing) is comfortably ahead and looks good to extend his championship lead by a massive difference.

That puts Vettel 67 points behind Hamilton and means the Briton would win the title at the US Grand Prix in Austin, Texas, in two weeks' time if Mercedes finish one-two for the third successive race.

Team-mate Valtteri Bottas completed an all-Mercedes front row. It will not necessarily be remembered as a classic but their flawless execution all weekend was an object lesson to Ferrari as to why their title hopes have been dashed. He made short work of both Force India cars before slicing past Pierre Gasly on lap 13 and Grosjean on the following tour to take fifth place.

The victory means Mercedes continue their run of being unbeaten at Suzuka since the turbo-hybrid era began in 2014.

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"The whole weekend has been incredibly strong", Hamilton said.

The top five cars settled into a rhythm for the middle stint of the race, but behind them the midfield was chaotic, with a combination of different tire strategies and Vettel trying to rise through the field creating all sorts of action.

Next for Vettel was Verstappen and Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen, who were busy battling for third, but the Red Bull driver outbraked himself into the hairpin, running off the track. Verstappen was subsequently given a five-second penalty for not returning to the track safely. Out came the safety auto after debris littered the track following a coming together between Kevin Magnussen and Charles Leclerc. Vettel spun off and had to rejoin in 19 - last place.

When asked if the mistake was a result of the mounting pressure that comes from dropping so far behind in the title race, Vettel said: "No, no".

Vettel managed one run on slicks between pitting to get rid of intermediates and the rain coming back, but ran off-track at Spoon. He was putting in some of the fastest laps and on lap 35 was in 6 but a full 40 seconds behind his teammate in fifth. Obviously, I am racing not just him. Hamilton however has simply gone from strength to strength and once again in Japan demonstrated why the championship is now in his hands.

Perez held onto seventh ahead of Grosjean and Force India teammate Ocon at the flag, and Carlos Sainz scored a much-needed point from 10th place.

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