Hamilton takes wrong turn

McLaren's run of four pole positions in a row came to an end at the Japanese Grand Prix.

McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton. Picture: AFP.

SUZUKA - Lewis Hamilton recognised he had made a wrong decision on Saturday as McLaren's run of four pole positions in a row came to an end at the Japanese Grand Prix.

The 2008 Formula One world champion, whose headline-grabbing move to Mercedes in 2013 was announced last week, was referring only to his choice of qualifying setup on a difficult afternoon for his McLaren team.

"I chose a direction but it's very difficult," he said after a session that ended with Hamilton ninth and Red Bull's double world champion Sebastian Vettel on pole. Ferrari's overall leader Fernando Alonso qualified sixth.

"Every time you do a run you try to fine tune the setup and sometimes you just go the wrong way.

"The car was feeling good and was quick in FP2 and FP3 (the second and third practice sessions) but I got it wrong in qualifying."

McLaren were chasing their best qualifying run since 1999 but hopes of another pole depended on Hamilton since team mate Jenson Button had a five place penalty for an unscheduled gearbox change.

In the end, even with the drop, Button will still start ahead of Hamilton in eighth after qualifying third fastest.

"As soon as I did my first lap, I knew immediately it was wrong. I did everything I could with my adjustments I have with the steering, I had the front wing maxed out and it was not enough to overcome the issue I had," said Hamilton.

"We had a long run yesterday with this setup and it was not too bad. I am hoping perhaps with a wind direction change tomorrow and the downforce level I have got then perhaps it will work a little bit better."

Hamilton's title hopes have faded with the European summer and the 27-year-old is now 52 points behind Alonso with six races remaining and a maximum 150 points to be won.

Button, winner at Suzuka last year despite Vettel starting on pole, is 75 points off the leader.

The older Briton, world champion with Brawn GP in 2009, said in contrast that his car had felt surprisingly good.

"I have been all over the place with setup and to find something that suits the car around here I am very happy about," he told reporters.

"I was happy with the balance through qualifying, the race is another thing. I haven't done many laps on high fuel but with the way the car felt in qualifying I am confident we can adjust the setup for the race with high fuel and it should work well."