Monday 23 September 2019

Mercedes tyre fix put Hamilton back in business

Champion sets blistering pace in Barcelona to pip team-mate Bottas for 74th career pole

Lewis Hamilton on his way to securing pole position for today’s Spanish Grand Prix
Lewis Hamilton on his way to securing pole position for today’s Spanish Grand Prix

Giles Richards

Lewis Hamilton took pole for the Spanish Grand Prix, securing a front row lock-out for Mercedes, with his team-mate Valtteri Bottas in second. Ferrari had looked strong but could not quite match their rivals. Sebastian Vettel was in third with Kimi Raikkonen in fourth. The two Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo in fifth and sixth.

Hamilton has been desperate for a return to form over the single lap and with his Mercedes finally performing as expected and required he managed it superbly. When it mattered in Q3 he set a blistering lap on his first run and with the pressure on promptly improved it. He needed to perform at his best, pushed to the line by Bottas who finished just four-hundredths of a second back.

Ferrari, who had been very strong in qualifying for the past three races, could not quite find the improvement they needed in Q3 and Vettel did well to be within one-tenth of Hamilton.

It is Hamilton's second pole of the season, having taken the top spot at the opener in Australia. This 74th career pole is a return to competitive form just when he needed it, having been outpaced over the single lap at Bahrain and China by his team-mate Bottas, and by Vettel in the last three races. It is his fourth pole in Spain, his third in a row and confirms that the Mercedes is a strong package when it can put the tyres in the right operating window.

Having only managed second, third and fourth place finishes before he inherited the win in Baku, Hamilton has a four-point lead over Vettel but will be buoyed how his team have the car performing as needed at the opening of the European season. Hamilton described it as a relief that they finally had the tyres working after second practice, when he was quickest, a feat he repeated in the final session yesterday. He and the team certainly look to have found the sweet spot in Barcelona.

With the Ferrari having the edge in pace over the opening races, Hamilton needs to exploit every chance he has to take advantage and extend his lead, and pole is the opening to the weekend he has been craving since Australia.

Mercedes have only the one win this season but showed strong form in Barcelona during testing.

The car works at its best on the harder compounds of rubber and Mercedes and all the top six drivers, will start the race on the soft rubber used in the second session.

McLaren put a car into Q3 for the first time this season with Fernando Alonso in eighth place. His team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne went out in 11th. Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean were in seventh and 10th respectively for Haas with the Renault of Carlos Sainz Jr in ninth.

Toro Rosso's Pierre Gasly was in 12th. Force India's Esteban Ocon and Sergio Pérez were in 13th and 15th respectively. Sauber's Charles Leclerc once again did well to make it to Q2 and finished in 14th place.

A difficult weekend for Williams, who were well off the pace, was compounded when Lance Stroll crashed in Q3, going wide on the exit of turn 12. His team-mate Sergey Sirotkin was in 18th but has a three-place grid penalty from the last race. Renault's Nico Hülkenberg was in 16th and Sauber's Marcus Ericsson in 17th.

Brendon Hartley in the Toro Rosso crashed at turn nine in final practice and his car was extensively damaged. He did not take part in qualifying and will start from the back of the grid. Observer

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