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.
SCARE FOR VETTERL AT START OF Q1
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.
GROSJEAN’S PROBLEMS AT TURN 14 CONTINUE
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.