Hamilton claims pole for Japanese Grand Prix, Vettel 9th

The German driver - who is 50 points adrift from rival Lewis Hamilton in the title fight - will start Sunday's Japanese Grand Prix from a lowly P8 while team mate Kimi Raikkonen will line up further up the grid in fourth place.

Hamilton's success in Suzuka was also a notable achievement as he secured the 80th pole position of his career.

'When the conditions are like this, then obviously you either get it right or get it wrong, so I'm not blaming anybody, ' said Vettel, whose slim title hopes suffered a further setback on Saturday.

"Every team has smart people but when it comes to being under pressure, and making the right decisions and right calls, that is why we are the best team in the world".

Team mate Valtteri Bottas, who beat Hamilton to pole at the last race in Russian Federation, guaranteed Mercedes a second successive front row lock out with a lap 0.299 seconds off the 33-year-old Briton's pace.

Vettel skidded off twice in his desperation to set a time and his starting position will be his lowest of a season which began so brightly but looks like ending in bitter disappointment.

The planning error cost Vettel dear, with spots of rain beginning to grease the track and leading him to make a mistake on his first flying lap.

"I think we have better pace than ninth so I'm not too anxious", added Vettel, who was later bumped up to eighth after Esteban Ocon incurred a three-place penalty for failing to slow sufficiently for red flags during practice. Ferrari will want to get Vettel ahead through the pit stops, but splitting strategies could mean it's Raikkonen who takes advantage - and then any team orders would become even more complicated... "Is it still a battle?" he asked.

Romain Grosjean steered his Haas to fifth ahead of Brendon Hartley and Pierre Gasly, who secured sixth and seventh on the grid for Toro Rosso at the home of the team's engine suppliers Honda.

"I do not feel like pointing my fingers at someone in particular, but I'm very disappointed". It's just frustrating - I've cooled down a little bit but it's pretty painful.

"I just can't catch a break", said the Australian.

Esteban Ocon was eighth for Force India with team-mate Sergio Perez rounding out the top 10.

Hamilton controversially took his eighth chequered flag of the season at Sochi last weekend - his fifth win in the last six races - after Mercedes ordered Bottas to give up the lead.