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Hamilton claims pole position for Japanese Grand Prix

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SUZUKA, Japan — Championship leader Lewis Hamilton claimed pole position for the Japanese Grand Prix on Saturday, leading a 1-2 finish for Mercedes and taking a step closer to securing his fifth Formula One title.

With rain threatening, Hamilton clocked a lap of 1 minute, 27.760 seconds to lead teammate Valtteri Bottas by 0.299. Red Bull driver Max Verstappen was third.

Mercedes read the weather conditions perfectly, ensuring that both drivers recorded their best laps early in the third part of qualifying, before the rain increased to secure their fifth consecutive one-two at Suzuka.

Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel’s qualifying run did not go as well with the German hitting a wet patch and spinning off the course. Vettel finished ninth, further damaging his slim chances of catching Hamilton in the championship race.

With five races to go, Hamilton leads Vettel by 50 points in the standings. Race winners get 25 points.

Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen was fourth in Japan, ahead of Haas driver Romain Grosjean.

It was a disappointing afternoon for Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo who ended up 15th after failing to set a time in the second qualifying, heading into the pits at the end of his outlap with what appeared to be an engine problem.

Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley claimed his best ever grid position in sixth, one place ahead of teammate Pierre Gasly.

Esteban Ocon was eighth, ahead of Vettel, with his Force India teammate Sergio Perez rounding out the top 10.

Marcus Ericsson crashed at Turn 7 early in the session.

The Sauber driver ran wide onto the grass and spun into a barrier, leading to a six-minute red flag.

F1 races in Austin, Mexico City hitting financial rough patches

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AUSTIN, Texas — Two of Formula One’s three races in North America are facing financial issues that are raising concern about their future.

Organizers of the U.S. Grand Prix won’t get at least $20 million from the state of Texas for the 2018 race after missing a paperwork deadline set by state law. And new questions lurk about the future of the Mexican Grand Prix after the country’s new president suggested the government may not spend on the race like it has the last four years.

Both races have been popular with drivers and fans, and have enjoyed key dates on the F1 calendar. Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton clinched season championships in Texas in 2015 and in Mexico City in 2017 and 2018.

Officials in Formula One and at the Circuit of the Americas, host of the U.S. Grand Prix, did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday.