Lewis Hamilton secured his 64th career pole position ahead of Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix with a blistering time of 1.19.194 – nearly three seconds quicker than the time to beat last year, again set by the number 44 car.
The Mercedes man edged out nearest rival Sebastian Vettel, who will start alongside the Brit after crossing the line .051 seconds behind his title challenger and managing to split what looked set to be the Silver Arrows’ fourth consecutive lockout at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
It was a particularly impressive result for the German who, if it were not for his experience, would have been starting alongside Daniil Kvyat at the back of the grid after receiving team instructions to turn the engine off at the start of Q1.
This came as a result of Ferrari mechanics having to complete a full engine change before the beginning of qualifying in under two hours, and seemingly being unable to cure a water leakage which occurred at the end of FP3.
However, Vettel questioned the radio communications and managed to alter in-car settings to remain on track and boost his chances of maintaining the Driver’s Championship lead come the end of tomorrow’s race.
It was not the start Mercedes wanted in terms of reliability on Saturday morning either, with Valtteri Bottas also suffering from a similar engine issue overnight meaning the Finn had very little time out on track during FP3; a session in which Ferrari dominated with Kimi Raikkonen setting the fastest lap; .242 ahead of his teammate and .381 in front of Hamilton.
But the two countrymen will line-up together on the second row of the grid after both lost time in sector three whilst seemingly on course to pip pole position– with the chicane catching several drivers out throughout the weekend including Hamilton, Vettel, Max Verstappen and particularly Romain Grosjean – who starts 14th after abandoning his final lap in Q2 following a second lock-up of the afternoon.
The top six is completed by the two Red Bulls with, as has been the case all weekend so far, Verstappen coming out on top of their battle for supremacy, with Daniel Ricciardo seemingly struggling to match the pace of his Dutch teammate.
It was here 12 months ago the exciting youngster truly arrived on the F1 scene after a collision between Hamilton and Nico Rosberg allowed the former Toro Rosso man to take a maiden victory for the senior team. Something when asked if it could be repeated this year Verstappen joked would have to be involving the top four for him to stand any chance of taking away full points again.
Elsewhere, Fernando Alonso was somehow able to drag the McLaren up to seventh on the starting grid after more technical issues on Friday which forced the Spaniard to take some time way from the track to de-stress achieved by a game of tennis, seemed to be yet another episode in the long-line of disasters this season.
But the veteran was able to overcome no time on the track in FP1 and the colossal achievement sparked celebrations similar to those of the days the 35-year-old became a double world champion with Renault, leaving a sad comparison to see how much the great has fallen.
It was not all smiles in the McLaren garage however as Stoffel Vandoorne was unable to match the heroics of his teammate and lines up alongside Kvyat at the back of the grid – who claimed there was something broken on the car following the session.
There were similar looks of disappointment etched across the faces of Lance Stroll and Joylon Palmer, who both had Q1’s to forget and will begin Sunday’s race on the second row from the back.
It will be especially disappointing for the Renault driver after the Brit set a solid pace in Friday’s FP1 and FP2 and arrived in high spirits ahead of Saturday’s sessions only to comment after stating he was unhappy in the car and that it seemed to have lost its speed overnight.
Teammate Nico Hulkenberg was also unable to continue his good qualifying run which had seen him secure a place in Q3 for the last three consecutive races. The German’s 1.21.397 leaves him 12th on the tomorrow’s grid, again a disappointment following the weekend’s previous sessions.
A Look Ahead
The Silver Arrows and Hamilton will be hoping they can repeat the standings of FP1, FP2 and all of qualifying in which the three-time world champion secured top spot.
However, Vettel and Raikkonen will take spirit from their FP3 dominance and believe they have what it takes to force Mercedes all the way.
One thing that was certainly noticeable throughout both Friday and Saturday are the upgrades that have been placed on and in both the Mercedes and Ferrari’s ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix seem to have improved all four cars, however have not dampened the ferocity of the teams’ rivalry and it is sure to be another tense encounter in Barcelona.