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Story of qualifying: Lewis Hamilton supreme as Mercedes returns to form in style

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Maurice's Memories: Japanese Grand Prix (2:12)

Maurice Hamilton looks back on his first ever visit to Suzuka for the Japanese Grand Prix. (2:12)

ESPN looks at the main talking points from qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix, where Mercedes proved it has overcome the blip of Singapore and Malaysia with a dominant pole position at Suzuka.

Shock: Kimi Raikkonen looked out of sorts all day and his FP3 crash at the second Degner left him with a grid penalty for Sunday's race. He was unable to minimise the cost, however, with both Red Bull's beating the Finn to fourth and fifth at a circuit Ferrari should expect to be the next quickest behind Mercedes. Once the penalty is applied, Raikkonen will start from 11th -- hardly a favourable position for Ferrari and its hopes of stopping Lewis Hamilton this weekend.

Shocker: Romain Grosjean's car has been through the wars recently -- but this time it had nothing to do with a faulty piece of circuit. The Frenchman crashed bizarrely at the Esses, losing the car and going into the wall nose first, suffering heavy damage. The faces in the Haas garage said it all -- another big repair job is on the horizon for the American team.

Another mixed homecoming for Honda: Honda has clearly made some steps forward in recent races, evidenced by Fernando Alonso advancing to Q3. While that will clearly be a boost to everyone at Sakura ahead of its home race on Sunday, Alonso's grid position will be a timely reminder of what has gone so wrong in its partnership with McLaren -- a big engine failure has prompted a change, meaning he will start last.

Suzuka still supreme: The Suzuka circuit remains one of the most special venues on the F1 calendar. As Raikkonen's crash in FP3 and Grosjean's in Q1 proved, there is still a big price to be paid for any mistakes, which is not always the case with modern F1 circuits. All three sessions were filled with drivers locking up and running wide as they continued to explore the limits.

Mercedes back on form: If there was any doubt of Mercedes' pace after Friday's rain-disrupted sessions, it was eradicated in fine style in qualifying. Hamilton's best laps were the quickest ever completed around the Suzuka circuit and onboards suggested there were areas he could have improved further. On pace alone the team should have little trouble extending its lead in both championships. Remarkably, it was Hamilton's first pole position at Suzuka and, if he drives like that in future years, it won't be his last.

Mixed strategies: Knowing they would face a five-place penalty for gearbox changes, both Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen opted to set their times in Q2 on the soft tyres. That means they will start the race on the harder of the two usable compounds (don't expect to see the mediums make an appearance on Sunday), giving them the opportunity to maximise the pace of their cars on an alternative strategy rather than getting stuck in traffic on the same tyre compound as the rest of the top ten.

First-corner watch: Valtteri Bottas' impending grid penalty means the two championship contenders will start from the front row. That will present Vettel with his best chance to pass on a circuit which is notoriously difficult for overtaking opportunities. Otherwise, given the pace we've seen from Hamilton and Mercedes this weekend, the No.44 car could disappear into the distance if he leads into Turn 1.