Hamil­ton seizes on Vet­tel blun­der

Pole-sit­ting Bri­ton claims Fer­rari are feel­ing pres­sure Ti­tle ri­val runs off cir­cuit af­ter his team’s tyre er­ror

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Sport - By Philip Dun­can in Suzuka

Lewis Hamil­ton said he be­lieved that Fer­rari were crack­ing un­der the pres­sure of the cham­pi­onship fight af­ter he claimed pole po­si­tion for this morn­ing’s Ja­panese Grand Prix.

Vet­tel, who went in to the race 50 points be­hind Hamil­ton, lined up only ninth af­ter an em­bar­rass­ing tyre blun­der by Fer­rari cost the Ger­man dearly in qual­i­fy­ing.

It did not help that Vet­tel, too, was cul­pa­ble of an­other er­ror as, in at­tempt­ing to make amends for his team’s mis­take, he ran off the cir­cuit at Spoon, and fin­ished 4.4 sec­onds down. His Fer­rari team-mate, Kimi Raikko­nen, qual­i­fied fourth.

De­spite only a smat­ter­ing of rain­drops in the mo­ments be­fore the shoot-out for pole, Fer­rari elected to put Vet­tel on wet tyres. Hamil­ton headed out on the slick rub­ber.

While the English­man im­me­di­ately posted a lap good enough for pole, Vet­tel had to dash back to the pits for a change of tyres. By the time he was ready to set his best ef­fort, a shower left him badly ex­posed.

The track be­came in­creas­ingly damp, and there would be no chal­lenge to Hamil­ton, who went into to­day’s race in a strong po­si­tion to ex­tend his ti­tle lead and fur­ther tighten his grip on a fifth cham­pi­onship.

“Ev­ery team has smart peo­ple, but ul­ti­mately when it comes to be­ing un­der pres­sure and mak­ing the right de­ci­sions and the right calls that is why we are the best in the world,” said Hamil­ton af­ter clinch­ing the 80th pole po­si­tion of his record-break­ing ca­reer.

“It adds to the mo­men­tum of this cham­pi­onship. It is al­ways dif­fi­cult to make the right call, but that is an­other real big dif­fer­ence that we as a team have made this year.

“The Fer­rari cars pulled out of the garage on the in­ter­me­di­ate tyres, and I hon­estly didn’t think it was the right de­ci­sion.”

Hamil­ton was not on his own in that view. Speak­ing on the ra­dio be­fore he had even left the pits, Vet­tel told his team that they had messed up. But it was too late.

Vet­tel’s en­su­ing on-track mis­take also sup­ports one pad­dock the­ory that his own er­ror-prone cam­paign has been sparked by try­ing to man­age his hap­less Ital­ian team from in­side the Fer­rari cock­pit.

Last night, the 31-year-old Ger­man towed the party line, but he will have known that this lat­est set­back could have been the fi­nal nail in his cham­pi­onship cof­fin.

“We ex­pected more rain, and it didn’t come straight­away so it was the wrong de­ci­sion,” he said. “I am not blam­ing any­body. It doesn’t mat­ter who made the call. Why does it mat­ter? It was our call. If it starts to rain five or six min­utes ear­lier then we per­formed a mir­a­cle be­cause we are the only clever ones. If it turns out the way it did then we are stupid. I de­fend the de­ci­sion.”

The best Vet­tel could real­is­ti­cally have hoped for from the race in Ja­pan was fourth. Hamil­ton went in to the race know­ing that vic­tory would move him 63 points clear with 100 still to race for.

“It has been an in­cred­i­ble year, but never in a mil­lion years did I think I would get to 80,” said Hamil­ton, who is now 12 poles ahead of any other driver in the sport’s his­tory.

“Eighty is not the end but it is a mile­stone I am very proud of. It makes me think of all the great years that I have had, and a few of those were at McLaren when we didn’t al­ways have a cham­pi­onship-win­ning car.”

On the ev­i­dence of their per­for­mance here, McLaren have the slow­est car.

Thirty years ago, Ayr­ton Senna led Alain Prost home as the Brazil­ian sealed the world cham­pi­onship in Ja­pan and McLaren recorded yet an­other onetwo fin­ish of a dom­i­nant year.

Fast-for­ward three decades, and these are bleak, bleak times in­deed for Bri­tain’s most suc­cess­ful For­mula One team.

Yes­ter­day, Fer­nando Alonso, who is quit­ting the team and the sport at the end of the year, and Stof­fel Van­doorne oc­cu­pied the 18th and 19th slots re­spec­tively on the grid.

Fans’ favourite: Spec­ta­tors show their sup­port for driv­ers’ cham­pi­onship leader Lewis Hamil­ton as he races to pole po­si­tion dur­ing a rain-hit qual­i­fy­ing ses­sion at Suzuka

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