Japanese Grand Prix: Desperate Ferrari fails again

SUZUKA, Japan -- It seems like Ferrari just can't get anything right at the moment. Here are the main talking points from qualifying at Suzuka, which seemed like another decisive moment in the 2018 championship fight.

Shocker: Another weekend, another mistake from Ferrari. In order to send both cars out on a bone-dry track with intermediate tyres at the start of Q3, you need to be 100 percent certain that rain is going to start falling in the next couple of minutes. It's not quite clear what was showing on Ferrari's rain radar, but none of the other teams taking part in Q3 made the same mistake and instead believed there would be enough time to set a time on slicks.

What's more, if Ferrari's gamble went wrong it was clear that the drivers could be in big trouble if the rain then came toward the end of the session, and that's exactly how it panned out, leaving Vettel ninth on the grid. Clearly Ferrari needs to take some gambles if Vettel is going to win the title from 50 points down, but risks need to be calculated and in Q3 the Ferrari pit wall added two and two and came up with five.

Suzuka special: Honda came to Suzuka with a new and improved power unit this weekend and was rewarded by both cars making it into the top ten. Brendon Hartley will start sixth for Toro Rosso ahead of teammate Pierre Gasly -- the first time both Toro Rossos have made it to Q3 since the Hungarian Grand Prix earlier this year. No doubt the Japanese manufacturer will derive a great sense of pride from delivering such impressive progress at its home race.

Eighty up: Lewis Hamilton took his 80th pole position on Saturday -- a massive achievement that extends the size of his record to 22 ahead of Michael Schumacher in second. The lap was impressive given the changing conditions, albeit 0.5s shy of his track record from 2017.

Raging Bull: We apologise for Daniel Ricciardo's language if it came across on ESPN's broadcast earlier. The word used and the volume at which it was expressed summed up the frustration that had built up under the Australian's helmet after he suffered another loss of drive in his Red Bull. He will line up 15th on the grid on Sunday.

Split strategies: Mercedes opted to use the soft tyre in Q2, meaning both Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas will start on that compound. That is at odds with the rest of the top 10 other than Romain Grosjean, who also made it through Q2 on the softs before the rain came. In terms of strategy, the softs and super-softs are fairly evenly matched when it comes to degradation but the super-soft is more susceptible to overheating and blistering.

A one-stop strategy should be possible from both starting tyres, but may be easier to achieve by starting on the soft as the super-soft will then be used on lower fuel at the end of the race. One advantage that might come from starting on the super-soft is a bit more traction off the line on the run down to Turn 1.

McLaren's tyre bungle: For reasons that the team has yet to explain, both McLaren drivers came to Suzuka with a tyre allocation of just four sets of super-soft tyres, five sets of softs and a massive four sets of mediums. Teams have to submit their tyre choices 14 weeks ahead of a flyaway race and McLaren's pick is consistent with the default allocation if nothing is submitted. Considering all other drivers had at least seven sets of super-softs available and no one opted for more than two mediums, it seems hard to believe that McLaren would choose its allocation on purpose.

As a result of the selection, Fernando Alonso did not run the super-soft in any practice sessions while Stoffel Vandoorne got just one run on them in FP2. Unsurprisingly, neither driver made it out of the first session of qualifying and only beat Ericsson's Sauber overall.

Suzuka bites back: If proof was needed that Suzuka is an unforgiving, old-school circuit, it came less than 10 minutes into qualifying when Marcus Ericsson ran wide at the Dunlop curve and crashed into the barriers. If only more circuits punished minor errors, qualifying would be a lot more exciting and there might be less of an incentive to revise the format every few years.

Renault rebuild: Although the drivers will always be the stars of qualifying, we should take a moment to praise the remarkable work that took place in the Renault garage between final practice and the start of Q1. After Nico Hulkenberg stuck his car in the wall at the end of FP3, the rear wing, floor, crash structure and various suspension components all had to be replaced on car No. 27 in less than two hours. The rebuild was completed in time for the green light in Q1 but unfortunately Hulkenberg was unable to repay his mechanics after failing to make Q2.

Turn 1 prediction: Max Verstappen starts on the super-soft tyre as opposed to the soft on the two cars in front, so it will be no surprise if he combines that extra mechanical grip with a dose of aggression and challenges the Bottas and Hamilton into Turn 1. The way things are going for Hamilton right now, it's hard to imagine him making a mistake from pole position, but perhaps the championship situation will flash through his mind if he sees Verstappen barrelling down the inside at Turn 1.