Hamilton on pole, Massa fifth

McLaren‘s championship leader Lewis Hamilton boosted his Formula One title chances by taking pole position for Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix while Ferrari rival Felipe Massa qualified only fifth.

2008 Japanese GP McLaren Hamilton - 0

The Briton, who leads the standings by seven points from Massa with three races remaining, starts ahead of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen on the front row in Fuji after a late charge in Saturday’s qualifying.

McLaren team mate Heikki Kovalainen was third quickest with Renault‘s two-times world champion Fernando Alonso, the surprise winner in Singapore two weeks ago, fourth in dry and sunny conditions.

“The title is obviously within my grasp,” Hamilton said after securing his sixth pole of the year and 12th of his 33 race career.

“We’re in a perfect position to score as many points as we can. I just have to keep the car on the road and bring it home.”

Hamilton won a wet race at Fuji from pole position in his rookie season last year to open a 12-point lead over then team-mate Alonso only to blow his chance in the final two races in China and Brazil.

Raikkonen clawed his way back from 17 points behind to win the championship by a single point but the Finn’s hopes of a repeat have been wrecked by a run of four races without a win.

“I’m not thinking about the world championship,” said Raikkonen, 27 points behind Hamilton and only mathematically still in the contest.

“I don’t have much to lose. We want to win both championships. It’s not going to be easy against the McLarens but if we can take maximum points that would be nice,” added the Finn, back on the front row for the first time since June.

McLaren lead Ferrari by one point in the constructors’ championship.

Hamilton, who increased his championship lead over Massa after finishing third in Singapore while the Brazilian failed to score in the night race after a botched pitstop, is bidding to become Formula One’s youngest world champion at 23.

Massa can become the first Brazilian to win the title since the late Ayrton Senna in 1991.

However, he now needs a large slice of luck after losing two places in the dying moments of Saturday’s final qualifying session when Kovalainen and Alonso lapped faster.

Massa will start alongside BMW-Sauber‘s Robert Kubica, third in the championship but 20 points behind Hamilton, with the Toyotas of Italian Jarno Trulli and Germany’s Timo Glock behind on the fourth row.

Toro Rosso filled the fifth row with Germany’s Sebastian Vettel, winner in Italy, and France’s Sebastien Bourdais.

Further back, Japan’s only grand prix driver Kazuki Nakajima out-qualified his Williams team mate Nico Rosberg to take 14th place for his home debut.

Reuters

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