Barcelona (AFP) – Lewis Hamilton roared back to form and secured a stunning pole position for Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix when he delivered a record-breaking qualifying lap on Saturday.
The defending four time world champion and current series leader broke the track lap record with a series of laps that culminated in him clocking 1:16.173, 0.040 seconds ahead of his team-mate Valtteri Bottas as Mercedes locked up the front row of the grid.
It was Hamilton’s second pole this season, after the season-opening race in Australia, his third straight in Spain and the 74th of his career. It broke Sebastian Vettel’s streak after three straight poles.
German four-time champion Vettel was third fastest for Ferrari ahead of his team-mate 2007 champion Kimi Raikkonen and the Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo.
Kevin Magnussen of Haas was seventh ahead of two-time champion and home hero Fernando Alonso of McLaren, fellow-Spaniard Carlos Sainz of Renault and Frenchman Romain Grosjean of Haas.
The top four were separated by only 0.132 seconds at the end of the session –- which promises a close race on Sunday at the Circuit de Catalunya.
“I needed this pole –- I’ve not had one for a while,” said Hamilton who leads Vettel in the drivers’ title race by just four points after four races.
“And it’s a Mercedes one-two which is great here. There is always a great atmosphere here with loads of British fans and even Spanish fans supporting us, which is great too!”
Bottas said: “It was close, like it has been all week. I ruined my first run in Q3 so I really only had one chance. It is a shame it is only four-hundredths, but it is good for the team. Now we want to get the one-two we deserved in Baku…”
Vettel said he was happy with his lap.
“I was feeling good too and I looked at the tower and then I saw my name didn’t go up – but, then, we expected Mercedes to be strong.”
Hamilton, who celebrated pole by taking a quick ‘selfie’ in the paddock, praised the Mercedes team for keeping him in front.
“The team has been working so hard,” added Hamilton. “So a huge thank you to everyone working hard back at the factory. We really tried to continue to understand and be open-minded.
“It is easy for us to get stuck in our ways and we definitely let loose and became open-minded to try to improve which is great. That is what it takes to be a winning team.
“It is a constant learning process, but these tyres seem to have a small working window — whether they give us more rubber, or less rubber, they appear to be a lot harder than last year, even though they went softer.
“I think that is because the working range is far narrower than it was last year so you give it everything on an out lap and you still don’t have your tyres in the window — and they heat the tyres up in the blankets.
“That’s why everyone struggles. I don’t understand why they worked in Australia, but haven’t worked ever since and today we had them working. I was saying to Valtteri that, when we get to Monaco, we’ll be driving around with cold tyres because it is not easy to get temperatures up there.”
The Q1 session began in mild conditions with rain threatening and soon produced drama.
After being accused of “sand bagging” by Hamilton, Ferrari quickly showed they had more pace than expected by rising to the top of the times with Vettel outpacing Raikkonen.
New Zealander Brendon Hartley of Toro Rosso was not among the runners following his huge accident at the end of final practice, which left the rear end of his car wrecked after spinning into the barriers at high speed.
He will have to ask the race stewards for permission to take part in Sunday’s race even if his car is repaired and he can prove his fitness.