Lewis Hamilton secured his 66th career pole and his first around the Baku City Circuit thanks to a blistering 1:40.593 – meaning the title-chaser will start at the front of the grid at Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
The Brit had struggled for pace throughout all three practice sessions, including finishing down in 10th at the conclusion of FP2 on Friday, however stormed his way to the front of the pack after being able to take 0.4 seconds off teammate Valtteri Bottas in sector two, who will start alongside his fellow Silver Arrow on the front row of the grid.
It looked as if car number 44 was to suffer pain similar to that of Q3 12 months ago as Daniel Ricciardo clipped the exit of turn six in his Red Bull and forced a red flag leaving just over three minutes of the session remaining with everyone’s favourite Austrian Toto Wolff looking on concerned.
With good reason too, as throughout the day it had taken Mercedes at least two warm-up laps to turn on the soft compound tyres due to the low degradation.
However, the Merc boss needn’t have been, as after just one long out-lap Hamilton broke the 1:41 barrier for the first time of the day, snatching pole from his teammate Bottas who had topped the timesheets up until Ricciardo’s crash.
Behind them title rival Sebastian Vettel did not enjoy his afternoon and will start on the second row of the grid in fourth alongside fellow Ferrari Kimi Raikkonen, after a 1:41.841 and a 1:41.693 respectively were not enough to challenge either of the Silver Arrows.
The Italian prancing horse pairing will have to have their wits about them when the lights go green as Friday practice time-topper Max Verstappen will be looking for any small avenue to sneak through sitting in fifth.
The Dutchman was unable to match his great race-pace shown during FP1 and FP2, but may just fancy taking on the struggling Vettel after out-qualifying his teammate for the second race weekend in a row with the Australian starting 10th.
Alongside the youngster from Red Bull sits Force India’s Sergio Perez, but will not take the headlines in the paddock with the pink panther’s teammate Estaban Ococ securing his best ever grid position of P7 behind the Mexican.
Lance Stroll also recorded his best finish in F1 after out-qualifying his partner Felipe Massa by 0.035s, with the Williams duo beginning Sunday’s race P8 and P9 respectively.
Elsewhere McLaren’s Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne both exited quali during Q1, with the veteran ending up in 16th and the rookie only able to secure P19 after Renault’s Jolyon Palmer not featuring. However, neither really matter, as with the help of a 70-place grid penalty between them, both Honda-powered cars will be starting the race from the back of the grid.
By Joe Owens