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As it happened: Qualifying
By Geoff Creighton and Emlyn Hughes
The live commentary has ended. No further updates will be posted.
Vettel04:50 Hello everyone and welcome back to AUTOSPORT Live for continuing coverage and rolling updates from round 15 of this year's FIA Formula 1 world championship - the Japanese Grand Prix from Suzuka.

Sebastian Vettel produced a superb display in final practice this morning. Not only did he top the session by 0.235s ahead of team-mate Mark Webber, but the devil lay in the detail of his work during the middle portion, when the German produced a lap on hard tyres some six-tenths of a second clear of the McLaren drivers.

The soft tyre runs at the end proved problematic, with more than one close call exiting 130R and up to the final chicane. Hamilton almost smashed into the back of Pic's Marussia, who had backed off completely to find some space, while Bruno Senna was almost sideswiped in the middle of the chicane by an HRT.

Vettel posted 1m32.136s and is looking good on both types of tyre. His team-mate Mark Webber was second, with Felipe Massa third, Michael Schumacher fourth and Sergio Perez just ahead of Sauber team-mate and home hero, Kamui Kobayashi.

Vettel leads Webber in final practice

04:52 Weather conditions remain fine and dry at Suzuka and the sky has cleared a little since the end of third practice.

There will be a mixture of sunny spells and cloudy periods early this afternoon, with a light northerly breeze keeping air temperature down to a maximum of 24 degrees Celsius.

04:54 Here is how the qualifying battle stands:
Qualifying head-to-head

Vettel         8 - 6     Webber
Button         2 - 12    Hamilton
Alonso        13 - 1     Massa
Schumacher     8 - 6     Rosberg
Raikkonen      6 - 8     Grosjean / D'Ambrosio
Di Resta       8 - 6     Hulkenberg
Kobayashi      8 - 6     Perez
Ricciardo     11 - 3     Vergne
Maldonado     12 - 2     Senna
Kovalainen    11 - 3     Petrov
De la Rosa    12 - 2     Karthikeyan
Glock          9 - 4     Pic
Hamilton04:56 Pirelli's soft and hard compound are in use this weekend, with the speed difference between the pair being big enough to keep leading outfits on their toes in the early part of the session.

With soft rubber boosting laptimes by over a second, it will be a nervous wait at the end of the first period for anyone trying to make it through with a time banked on the harder rubber.

Traffic was a major problem at the end of final practice, so the early segment could hold many surprises, while teams making it through to the latter stages will need to make the most of the limited rubber allocation.

04:57 Traffic marred final practice for McLaren, but the team is facing a strong fight from Red Bull here as it looks for a fifth successive pole

04:58 A packed crowd is filling the grandstands and spectator areas around the circuit, with just a couple of minutes to go.

04:58 Championship leader Alonso needs to get as high up the grid as he can today, but it looks like more damage limitation from the Spaniard.

04:58 Michael Schumacher carries a 10-place grid penalty into this round after his shunt in Singapore. He is in the cockpit and ready to rock.

04:59 Work continues on the car of Nico Hulkenberg after his crash this morning.

04:59 The Force India is in pieces, up on stands and it will be some time before he gets out - if at all.

0 min: Qualifying is underway at Suzuka.

0 min: The crowd responds to the green light with a fairly large cheer. No takers as yet on the circuit.

1 min: Di Resta is first to venture out onto the track.

2 min: Perez is the next to join the circuit in his Sauber.

3 min: Perez is told he is fueled for a long run of five timed laps.

3 min: Di Resta crosses the start-finish line and begins the first timed lap in qualifying.

3 min: The hard rubber is very durable here, with the best laps coming when the rubber is fully up to temperature.

3 min: Petrov is immediately using the soft tyres on his Caterham.

3 min: Di Resta is on that compound and he is through the hairpin and on his way to Spoon.

4 min: He comes through Spoon with no trouble at all and is on his way to the final chicane on this first effort.

4 min: Grosjean and Raikkonen are on track for Lotus to bank a time on the hards.

4 min: Di Resta gets the ball rolling with a lap of 1m33.661s.

4 min: Alonso heads out with hard rubber in his Ferrari.

5 min: Pic and Glock match the Lotus pair by using the much faster soft tyres for the initial run.

5 min: Replays show a reasonable lock-up of the unloaded right front tyre for di Resta into the chicane, but he made it through. Senna is about to complete his first timed lap.

6 min: Senna goes into third on the hard tyre with a lap of 1m33.655s.

6 min: Hamilton heads out and is told to find a gap in traffic without slowing through 130R, something others did to cause him trouble this morning

6 min: Rosberg, Ricciardo, Vergne and Webber are on track.

7 min: Grosjean is next to top the order from team-mate Raikkonen.

7 min: Maldonado left the pits but is straight back in at the completion of one lap - no time set.

7 min: Ricciardo goes sixth with his first effort - a lap of 1m34.634s.

8 min: Alonso slots in second fastest to Grosjean, just over a tenth behind.

8 min: Problems for Maldonado after that lap and the mechanics are furiously working around the cockpit and front end of the Williams.

8 min: Meantime, Hulkenberg's Force India is almost ready to go and the German is climbing aboard.

9 min: Massa tops the second and third sectors to head the list now in a quick 1m32.946s.

9 min: Webber completes his first timed lap and moves into second spot with a time of 1m33.019s.

9 min: Perez runs wide at Dunlop and takes a wild ride across the Turn 7 gravel.

9 min: No move from Vettel, Schumacher or Hulkenberg just yet.

10 min: Kobayashi is the fastest man through the first sector but ends up ninth on the list after finding de la Rosa in the final chicane.

10 min: The order is Massa up top, with Webber second, Grosjean third, Button fourth, Senna fifth and Alonso in sixth.

10 min: Vettel leaves the Red Bull garage with a set of hard tyres bolted onto the car.

11 min: Hamilton nips past future team-mate Rosberg near 130R as he clocks a 1m33.300s to go fifth.

11 min: Button has taken fourth with his early effort, while Alonso is now fifth - currently a quarter of a second off his team-mate.

11 min: Schumacher is in the cockpit and watching the monitors intently. He is yet to go out with eight minutes left on the clock.

12 min: Rosberg is out there using hard tyres. He goes ninth with a time of 1m33.628s.

12 min: Maldonado's car has been fixed and he's back out on the circuit.

13 min: Kovalainen is the top runner on the soft tyres at the moment in 15th, with the pace of the yellow-striped rubber a worry for leading teams.

13 min: Schumacher and Vettel are also on track now for a first run.

13 min: Button improves to third fastest with a 1m33.077s on warming hard tyres.

13 min: Hulkenberg is last to leave the pits. He goes straight out on a set of soft compound tyres.

14 min: More traffic for Hamilton, this time a Williams of Maldonado but he secures fourth fastest for the moment.

14 min: Vettel is straight to the top of the leaderboard after one flying lap. He posts 1m32.608s to head the field by more than three-tenths.

15 min: Massa is now second with Webber third, Hamilton fourth, Button fifth and Grosjean in sixth spot.

15 min: Maldonado also went straight onto the soft compound. He goes second with a time of 1m32.834s.

16 min: Raikkonen now has soft rubber on his Lotus and is warming up to a flying lap.

16 min: Title leader Alonso has bolted soft rubber on to his Ferrari and heads out of the garage.

16 min: Di Resta leaps up to third spot with a lap of 1m32.898s. These laps from Maldonado and the Scot may force some teams to use the soft tyre when ordinarily they may not want to in Q1.

17 min: Raikkonen tops the first sector as he finds strong pace on the soft tyres.

17 min: Hulkenberg jumps straight into second spot with his first timed lap - 1m32.828s.

17 min: Hamilton reports understeer on his hard tyres as he is told they may need to run again.

17 min: Schumacher is now on his first timed lap and heading towards Spoon curve.

18 min: Replays show that Schumacher ran wide out of the second Degner curve on this lap.

18 min: Raikkonen comfortably leaps to the top of the times on softs - 1m32.221s.

18 min: Schumacher backed off and only posted 1m43.627s. He needs to get a representative time on the board quickly.

19 min: McLaren and Red Bull roll the dice as soft tyre flyers continue to shuffle the order.

19 min: Perez springs up to P1 with a new best of 1m32.147s.

19 min: Assuming Schumacher does improve, it will be Ricciardo who ends up 18th and needing to improve. He is on a lap now.

19 min: Kobayashi takes over at the top with a new benchmark of 1m32.042s.

19 min: Schumacher has backed off on this lap.

19 min: Alonso improves to fourth fastest by roasting a set of soft tyres.

20 min: The flag is out but it's still far from decided...

05:20 Schumacher scrapes over the line with a handful of seconds to go. It's a one lap banzai effort now to make sure he gets through.

05:20 Grosjean is on a quick lap... and goes top with a 1m32.029s.

05:21 Schumacher is down on the target time required to progress after the first sector.

05:21 41.5s helps Schumacher in the second sector but he only has the chicane to go.

05:21 Hamilton has dropped to 14th, with Button 15th - both having stayed in the garage to save soft rubber.

05:22 Wow, Schumacher scrapes through into 16th place with a time of 1m33.349s.

05:22 Ricciardo was also able to improve on his last effort. That dropped Senna down to 18th. He is eliminated.

05:23 Kovalainen ends up 19th in his Caterham, with team-mate Petrov a poor 23rd at the end of that segment.

05:24 The first period of qualifying is complete and the following seven drivers are eliminated:

18) Senna 1m33.405s
19) Kovalainen 1m34.657s
20) Glock 1m35.213s
21) de la Rosa 1m35.385s
22) Pic 1m35.429s
23) Petrov 1m35.432s
24) Karthikeyan 1m36.734s.

05:24 Interesting developments at the end of that segment. Vergne (17th) baulked Senna (18th) towards the beginning of the Brazilian's final attempt.

05:25 Senna was certainly distracted by the presence of the Toro Rosso. It remains to be seen if the stewards make a call on this.

05:26 Tyres saved by Red Bull and McLaren, but it wasn't easy this time, with the soft rubber significantly quicker here.

05:26 A notable effort from Pedro de la Rosa, who is ahead of his team-mate, plus one Caterham and one Marussia. He finished in 21st place.

05:27 Senna is speaking to reporters in the paddock and is far from happy with the outcome, as you can imagine.

0 min: Q2 is underway in Japan.

0 min: The remaining 17 challengers that have made it through are in no rush to head out immediately.

0 min: They have just 15 minutes to try and secure a slot in the top 10 shootout.

1 min: Soft tyres will the only option for this segment.

1 min: Home hero Kobayashi is cheered on as he heads out for Sauber.

1 min: Hulkenberg joins the Sauber driver on track, followed by Rosberg.

1 min: Perez is also on track to bank an early time on soft rubber.

2 min: Di Resta heads out and Ricciardo joins the party with a set of soft tyres bolted onto the Toro Rosso.

3 min: Vettel and Maldonado join the racetrack.

3 min: Fresh softs for Hamilton as he rolls out of the McLaren garage, while Alonso is underway on used rubber.

4 min: All 17 drivers are out there, with the exception of Michael Schumacher.

4 min: Kobayashi sets the first mark at a 1m32.368s.

4 min: Hulkenberg slots in behind Kobayashi with a time of 1m38.638s.

4 min: Hamilton has found a good gap in traffic with the aid of the McLaren team and begins a flying attempt.

5 min: Soft tyres for Vettel and he is fastest through the first two sectors of the lap.

5 min: Alonso slots in second fastest on his used tyres.

5 min: Di Resta goes third with 1m33.372s.

5 min: Button is now the fastest man in the first sector.

6 min: Vettel bangs in a lap of 1m31.501s and the German is looking hard to beat today.

6 min: Massa ends up second to Vettel's new best with a 1m32.293s.

6 min: Button flashes past in 1m31.772s for second fastest.

6 min: Webber is quicker than team-mate Vettel through the first sector of the lap, but he is down slightly through the middle portion.

7 min: Hamilton ends up slower than his team-mate and is shuffled down to fourth.

7 min: Webber goes third with a time of 1m31.950s after a slight error at the final chicane.

8 min: Schumacher is still in the pits with seven minutes to go. Maldonado crosses the line on soft tyres but he is only 12th.

8 min: Hamilton is told he may have to run again after that 1m32.121s effort.

9 min: Vettel leads the pack with 1m31.501s so far, ahead of Button, Webber, Hamilton, Massa and Kobayashi in sixth place.

9 min: Maldonado comes back in after his run, leaving the track empty for the time being.

10 min: Schumacher is going for the last-minute rush again. He leaves the pits.

10 min: Alonso heads out again to look for more pace, with the Spaniard consistently slower than Massa so far today.

11 min: Team-mate Rosberg joins him on the circuit.

11 min: Massa has also gone out in his Ferrari for another attempt.

11 min: Perez is 10th for now with Hulkenberg 11th, Maldonado 12th, Rosberg 13th, di Resta 14th, Ricciardo 15th and Vergne 16th.

12 min: Hamilton is forced out of the McLaren garage, compromising a set of his soft tyre allocation ahead of the shootout.

12 min: Schumacher crosses the line with 2m49s left on the clock and this is a building lap, generating heat into the tyres.

12 min: Button looks to be comfortable with his second-place time in between the Red Bull pair.

12 min: Schumacher will have just one attempt at a time when he comes through in a minute or so.

13 min: Alonso is pushing now with a strong first sector.

14 min: It's a 1m31.833s from Alonso to go third fastest.

14 min: Rosberg crosses the line and he goes ninth with a time of 1m32.625s.

14 min: Kobayshi begins his second attempt with the fastest first sector time.

14 min: Di Resta moves into seventh with 1m32.327s.

14 min: Di Resta bumps Raikkonen down to 11th.

14 min: Hamilton's first sector is poor and he is likely to abort and save rubber.

05:42 Hulkenberg is up to sixth with a lap of 1m32.272s.

05:42 The flag is out on Q2.

05:42 Massa's time continues to tumble, with the Brazilian now a dangerous ninth.

05:42 Schumacher is coming towards the end of his one and only effort. He goes 12th with 1m32.469s. He is eliminated.

05:42 Raikkonen springs up to third fastesst with a 1m31.826s in the Lotus.

05:43 10th now for Massa and he's not on a good lap...

05:43 Grosjean grabs seventh in his Lotus, which is enough to dump Massa out of the top 10.

05:44 Massa trails back into the pits after failing to secure a good time on his second attempt, having earlier been ahead of Alonso.

05:45 The second period of qualifying is complete and the following seven drivers are eliminated:

11) Massa 1m32.293s
12) di Resta 1m32.327s
13) Schumacher 1m32.469s
14) Maldonado 1m32.512s
15) Rosberg 1m32.625s
16) Ricciardo 1m32.954s
17) Vergne 1m33.368s.

05:46 We hear that Nico Hulkenberg changed his gearbox after his morning shunt. He is through in 10th but will drop five places after qualifying.

05:47 Vettel looks a strong bet for pole today, with Hamilton now compromised on tyres by being forced out at the end of that segment.

05:47 Paul di Resta was unlucky in the other Force India. He ended up 12th and failed to make it by 0.056s.

05:48 Teams are also keen to save rubber in the final shootout, so one run may be all the leading runners are willing to make.

05:49 So these are the 10 drivers that have made it through to the shootout:

Sebastian Vettel
Mark Webber
Jenson Button
Lewis Hamilton
Fernando Alonso
Kimi Raikkonen
Romain Grosjean
Nico Hulkenberg
Kamui Kobayashi
Sergio Perez.

0 min: The battle for pole begins in Japan.

0 min: Raikkonen is the first to head out in his Lotus.

1 min: Vettel heads out on a set of soft compound tyres.

1 min: Hamilton is also fired up and is away on the used softs he went out on at the end of Q2.

1 min: Webber is also on track in the other RB8.

1 min: No move yet from the Sauber drivers or Nico Hulkenberg. One run looking likely here.

2 min: Grosjean and Button are also on track, making it six drivers heading out for a first attempt.

2 min: Alonso remains in the Ferrari garage as the others begin a flying lap.

3 min: Vettel crosses the line and start his timed lap, followed by Webber a few seconds later.

3 min: Vettel is more than half-a-second clear of Hamilton in the first sector of the lap.

3 min: Hamilton's McLaren still looks nervous through the opening part of the lap and he is slightly slower than Raikkonen.

4 min: It's a 1m32.208s from Raikkonen to put down the first marker.

4 min: Webber is a tenth quicker than Vettel through sector one.

4 min: Vettel crosses the line in a stunning 1m30.839s and goes to the top.

4 min: Hamilton can't beat Raikkonen and goes second for the moment before being blown away by the Red Bulls.

4 min: Webber slots into second spot with a time of 1m31.090s.

5 min: Button ends up third on fresh tyres with a 1m31.294s, with Grosjean taking fourth.

5 min: Hamilton ends up sixth of the six runners, but will hope for more from his fresh tyres.

5 min: A wide entry for Webber at the hairpin in replay, explains part of the two-tenths gap between himself and team-mate Vettel.

6 min: So it's Vettel up top with Webber second, Button third, Grosjean fourth, Raikkonen fifth and Hamilton in sixth.

6 min: The other four drivers have yet to head out for a run.

6 min: Hamilton pits and needs a big final attempt to start close to the flying Red Bulls tomorrow.

6 min: Vettel and Webber are into the pits. Both are wheeled straight into the garage by the mechanics.

7 min: Perez heads out for his run in the Sauber.

7 min: Hulkenberg leaves the Force India garage and is rolling down the pitlane.

7 min: Vettel is straight back out there, again with Webber a few seconds behind him on the road.

8 min: Grosjean is the last to head out for the final laps.

8 min: Alonso is finally underway for his single run on new softs. He is short on rubber after using a set to progress from Q1.

8 min: Drivers are working through their lap out of the pits, with Vettel coming through Spoon curve.

9 min: Perez starts his first timed lap of the shootout.

9 min: This will be his only attempt at a time, along with team-mate Kobayashi and Hulkenberg.

10 min: The flag is out but it is all still to play for in Japan.

10 min: Vettel is fastest again through the first sector of the lap, as he looks to head off Webber's challenge.

06:00 Perez goes fifth with a lap of 1m32.022s.

06:00 Hamilton's first sector is poor, almost half a second down on Vettel.

06:00 Yellow flags at Spoon curve.

06:00 Raikkonen has spun at Spoon and other drivers will be forced to back off.

06:01 The drivers will have to back off through Spoon after the spin from Raikkonen.

06:01 Hamilton ends up ninth having been forced to slow for Raikkonen.

06:01 Grosjean moves up to fifth fastest.

06:01 But Kobayashi managed to go fourth with a time of 1m31.700s.

06:01 Sebastian Vettel claims his fourth straight pole at the Suzuka circuit, for tomorrow's Japanese Grand Prix!

06:02 Button ends up third quickest before facing his five-place gearbox penalty.

06:02 A great performance by the German. He is delighted and waves to the crowd in parc ferme.

06:03 It's a Red Bull lockout on the front row with Webber in second place. Button is third on the timesheet before his penalty takes effect.

06:04 Kobayashi is fourth in the classification with Grosjean fifth, Perez sixth and Alonso down the list in seventh.

06:04 Raikkonen's spin deprived us of a grandstand finish. He is eighth on the list with Hamilton ninth and Hulkenberg rounding out the top 10.

06:06 An interesting session and several penalties to consider for tomorrow's grid. But it is Vettel's day and he is delighted with his performance.

06:07 Red Bull lockout the front row, but will the race result be the same? Join us tomorrow for the Japanese Grand Prix from Suzuka.

Session length: 60 minutes
Mainly cloudy High Temp: 24°C / 75°F
Track: Dry
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Friday 05 Oct Start GMT
 Friday practice one 00:55
 Friday practice two 04:55
Saturday 06 Oct
 Saturday practice 01:55
 Qualifying 04:50
Sunday 07 Oct
 The Japanese Grand Prix 05:45