Wednesday 17 January 2018

Hamilton takes pole position to get season back on track

'Hamilton needed this, and badly. You could see by his beaming face afterwards that this meant something.' Photo: Getty
'Hamilton needed this, and badly. You could see by his beaming face afterwards that this meant something.' Photo: Getty

Daniel Johnson

With a flash of spellbinding speed and a punch of the air, Lewis Hamilton got his season back on track with a superb pole position for the Spanish Grand Prix. Luck may have deserted him of late, but talent has clearly not.

After a spate of problems this season, most of them beyond his control, Hamilton needed this, and badly. You could see by his beaming face afterwards that this meant something. He simply had to relegate Nico Rosberg into second.

The gap might be 43 points, but the fight is very much on.

Stars shone bright here in Barcelona; those of established names at the summit of the sport, others not far from the top and some just starting out.

In his first qualifying session after being promoted to Red Bull, 18-year-old Max Verstappen impressed throughout. For most of the hour, it seemed as if he would beat Daniel Ricciardo, his more experienced team-mate, but the Australian asserted his authority at the death.

Verstappen still was a mighty fourth, even if he trailed Ricciardo by nearly half a second.

As Damon Hill, the 1996 world champion, put it: "This is all very reminiscent of Michael Schumacher's early career."

While there was ecstasy for Hamilton, Ricciardo and Verstappen, there was misery for the men on the receiving end of their speed.

The teenager did exactly what was asked, pushing both Ferraris into fifth and sixth. After Sergio Marchionne, the Ferrari president, said he "expected" a win for the Scuderia this weekend, recriminations from this display will not be far away.

Verstappen also inflicted yet more pain on the driver he forced out of Red Bull and back to Toro Rosso. Daniil Kvyat, down in 13th, was some five places off his team-mate Carlos Sainz. The Russian's confidence must be at an all-time low. Red Bull's seemingly ruthless decision has already been vindicated.

"To lock out the second row, the boys have done a magic job there," Christian Horner, the Red Bull team principal, said.

"Daniel's last lap was pretty awesome and Max, well what can you say - it justifies why he is in that seat."

About the only man happier was Hamilton. Rosberg, his Mercedes team-mate, has won all four races this season, as well as seven in a row, a run the three-time champion needs to end today.

For Hamilton, after mechanical trouble rendered him unable to compete in final qualifying in China and Russia, this was three out of three for the year when he has had the chance to secure pole position.

"Very, very happy," Hamilton said after the 52nd pole position of his career. "Nico's been very strong all weekend, so it was crucial, bit by bit, that I brought the pace together. I want to say a big thanks to the team for working so hard over the last two weeks to try and rectify the issues we've had."

What made it all the more impressive was that there was serious pressure on Hamilton's final lap in the shootout. His first lap brought a major error.

Huge plumes of smoke came off the tyres as he locked up at turn 10. But Rosberg could not make his advantage tell. On a circuit where it is notoriously hard to overtake, Hamilton needs to put those suspect starts of the first couple of races behind him.

Another Englishman under pressure has not managed to turn the tide. Jolyon Palmer was not far off team-mate Kevin Magnussen, but unfortunately two tenths of a second counts. The 25-year-old starts today's race 17th.

It was a similar case of so near, so far for Jenson Button, just a fraction off making it into the shootout for pole position. But his team-mate, local hero Fernando Alonso, managed just that, the first time for McLaren since 2014. Some small cheer at last.


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