Lewis Hamilton will start the Spanish Grand Prix from pole position after comprehensively seeing off his rivals in qualifying at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on Saturday.
It’s the 32-year-old’s 64th career pole and his third of the season, having already started at the front in Melbourne and Shanghai. It’s an important return to form after losing out to Valtteri Bottas in Bahrain and Sebastian Vettel in Sochi.
Both Mercedes drivers had put in a dazzling pair of laps at the start of the final round of qualifying. Hamilton’s opening gambit was timed at 1:19.149s which was almost three seconds faster than last year’s pole time and a quarter of a second clear of Bottas.
The first runs of both Ferrari drivers were also sub-1:20s, as was that of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. However his team mate Daniel Ricciardo was half a second off the leaders. He was the slowest of the six drivers to make two runs in Q3.
Hamilton was subsequently unable to improve his time with his final run. However, Vettel’s second run leap-frogged the Ferrari ahead of Bottas for second place, missing out on pole by just half of a tenth of a second.
An impressive lap from Fernando Alonso gave McLaren a much needed boost before the Spanisard’s adoring home crowd. The two-time world champion is set to start from seventh place alongside Force India’s Sergio Perez.
Williams’ Felipe Massa and Perez’ teammate Esteban Ocon will line up on the fifth row for the start of tomorrow’s race.
The 2.5s performance advantage meant that everyone was straight onto the soft compound tyres at the start of qualifying. Lewis Hamilton’s sole contribution of Q1 clocked in at 1:20.511s to ensure he progressed to the second round ahead of Raikkonen.
Vettel was one of the first cars out after Ferrari completed a precautionary engine change on the car in the interval since FP3. Despite an early scare where it seemed he would have to park the car, Vettel posted a time of 1:20.939s to make sure he also made it through.
After an overnight electrical problem and a morning water leak forced him to revert to an old power unit, Bottas was fourth fastest in the opening round ahead of Verstappen and Ricciardo. Haas’ Romain Grosjean recovered from a spin at turn 14 early in Q1 to go seventh with his second run. That put him eight hundredths ahead of Ocon, with Toro Ross’s Carlos Sainz close behind.
Sauber’s Pascal Wehrlein made it through to Q2 by just five thousandths of a second ahead of his team mate Marcus Ericsson, who was the first driver in the drop zone. After a strong performance in Friday practice, Jolyon Palmer was disappointed to find himself eliminated along with Williams’ Lance Stroll, McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne and an atypically sluggish Daniil Kvyat in the second Toro Rosso.
Once again, Hamilton needed only a single lap of 1:20.210s to take care of business in Q2. By comparison Bottas locked up and ran wide in turn 1 on his first flying lap, and was forced to run a put more wear on his race tyres to put in a lap just under a tenth off his team mate.
Bottas was deposed from second by Vettel, with Raikkonen laying claim to fourth ahead of the Red Bulls of Verstappen and Ricciardo by the midway point. The top six all felt safe enough to to stay in the garage as the clock counted down. They would be joined in Q3 by Ocon and his team mate Perez, with Massa also making it into final round.
A flurry of flying laps ended with some much needed cheer for McLaren as Fernando Alonso succeeded in making it through to Q3 in tenth place. Neither Haas progressed, with Grosjean’s final flying lap once again ending up in a mess going into turn 14. Also eliminated as the chequered flag came out were Hulkenberg and Wehrlein.
Two-time champion Fernando Alonso said he will be open to offers from rival teams if McLaren continue to struggle next season.
The Spaniard told a news conference ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix that he was happy with the team, but that his aim was to try and win a third drivers’ world title.
“My intention, and my first priority, is to race here (F1) next year, but not just to race… Also to win. I’m happy with the team, but we are not winning.
“If from here to September, or October, I see an opportunity to win in 2018, I’ll be more than happy to stay.
“If it’s not the case, I will be more than happy to talk to anyone…”
On a wet day in Barcelona Alonso was in a genial and mischievous mood and said he was looking forward to flying to the United States next week to prepare for the Indianapolis 500.
He revealed that he has already had it written into his contract that he will keep his race car, as used in America on May 28, and put it on display in his personal car museum in Spain.
“Yes, that is what is going to happen,” said Alonso. “I have had it written in all my contracts like that since 2004.”
Alonso is in the final season of a three-year contract with McLaren-Honda and smiled broadly at suggestions that he could leave to join Mercedes or Ferrari or Red Bull.
“Now is not the time for me to think of this,” he said. “It’s a busy period with Indycar… So I don’t know.
“If it’s time to find other challenges outside Formula One, or if F1 will be an opportunity to win the championship, which is my main goal – I’m very open to anything.”
He said he was enjoying this year’s racing in the new “fatter and faster” cars.
“This year the cars are good to drive,” he said. “Formula One is back in a way. I like this Formula One. The cars look good again.”
Sebastian Vettel says that his Ferrari team mate Kimi Raikkonen deserved to get better results in the first four races of 2017.
Vettel has won two races so far this season, but Raikkonen has finished on the podium just once. His third place in Sochi means the Finn is now 27 points in arrears to Vettel in the drivers championship.
“He probably didn’t have the races he deserved,” Vettel said this week.
“Things didn’t go 100 per cent in his direction so far,” the four-time world champion continued. “But I don’t think there’s any doubt inside the paddock that he’s one of the most talented drivers we have.
“I don’t think there’s anyone who doubts his skills or his talent,” he added. “I don’t think anybody else could go to WRC and perform at the level he did, just come back and be right up to the pace again.
“You need to have a lot of things coming your way,” he pointed out.
“If you look back last year, I had some races where things didn’t come way. It’s up and down. But usually throughout the season it sort of equals out.”
Raikkonen has been fending off speculation that he’s out of favour with Ferrari president Sergio Marchionne. Getting into the top three in the Russian Grand Prix certainly came at the right time for him,
It was “a more positive weekend compared to the first three races,” Raikkonen said after the race.
“Obviously I’m happy for the podium. But I’m disappointed to lose a place at the start instead of gaining one,” he added. “Now we need to keep working; small details can make a big difference in the end.”