FORMULA 1 driver Lewis Hamilton will start on the second row of the grid after qualifying for the 2011 Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka.

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The 26-year-old from Hertfordshire will line-up third alongside Ferrari rival Felipe Massa in Japan – the two having clashed during last month’s Singapore night race.

Hamilton’s Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team-mate Jenson Button topped the timesheets in all three practice sessions at the figure-of-eight Suzuka circuit but could only qualify second today (Saturday).

World champion-elect Sebastian Vettel, who needs just one point to retain his F1 title, qualified on pole position for Red Bull.

In the top 10 shootout, Lewis claimed provisional pole with a lap time of 1m 30.617s, with Button second quickest at that stage ahead of the two Red Bulls of Vettel and Mark Webber.

Button asked the team: “What time did Lewis do?”

The McLaren pitwall replied: “He did a 30.6s and you did a 30.7s. The difference is in the last sector.”

Leaving his final run until the closing minutes of the session, Hamilton did not cross the line in time to post a lap, allowing Vettel to snatch his 12th pole position of the season.

Hamilton was told over the radio: “We’ve missed the chance, Lewis. We’ve taken the chequered flag. Box this lap, save the tyres.”

Following Hamilton’s track blunder, Vettel posted a time of 1m 30.466s, with Button second in 1m 30.475s.

The pitwall told Button: “We are P2. Vettel is on pole, he’s beaten us by 9 milliseconds...”

Button replied: “It’s going his way at the moment, but it’ll come our way soon. We’ll make amends tomorrow!”

With the qualifying session over, the pitwall also said to Hamilton: “All cars have done their laps. You are P3, still a good position for tomorrow.”

Behind Hamilton and Massa, Fernando Alonso and Webber will make up the third row.

Tewin hero Hamilton went quickest in Q2 after clocking a 1m 31.139s ahead of Vettel, Button, Webber and Alonso.

Earlier this morning, Button had gone fastest in third practice with a 1m 31.255s, with Herts-born Hamilton second best.

The 2011 Grand Prix of Japan starts at 7am on Sunday.

* Videos courtesy of Vodafone McLaren Mercedes.

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