The Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton has banished his qualifying demons at Baku to claim another pole position for Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix, while his team mate Valtteri Bottas lines up second for the first Mercedes front row lock out of the season.
After a mixed weekend so far with his Free Practice results, and with the shadow of his shunt into the wall last year in Q3 in the back of his mind, Hamilton pulled out one of his exceptional qualifying laps to put his Mercedes on pole. Over four tenths of a second faster than his team mate Bottas in second.The front row lock out for Mercedes was reminiscent of their dominant ways the last three seasons, as even Bottas finished over half a second clear of third place man Kimi Raikkonen. The result today showed that perhaps the team have finally got on top of their “diva” W08 that has been an issue during the opening races of the season. Which would add yet another twist to this already unpredictable season.
“We started in the wrong place [on Friday] and had to make a lot of changes overnight,” said Hamilton after the pole position today. “But the changes were fantastic and that lap… There was a lot of pressure on that last lap. My last lap in Montreal was pretty special but I think this one tops it.”
Raikkonen’s team mate Sebastian Vettel will start the race from fourth place, after suffering a pre-qualifying engine change. Vettel has had to resort back to a power unit he used earlier on in the season to avoid a grid penalty at a circuit where, like Monaco, qualifying is key. The result is an engine with a lot of miles on it that may have had some of the life taken out of it. Which considering this is the fastest street track in the world, may hinder Vettel in the race tomorrow.
Max Verstappen came close to relegating Vettel a further place in the dying moments of Q3, missing out by just over three hundredths of a second. After Friday’s Free Practice sessions many people suggested Verstappen was a contender for pole in Baku, but the Red Bull’s chances seemed to fade as the Mercedes upped the pace. It did also not help that Verstappen appeared to be nursing some kind of engine gremlin round the lap too.
But while Verstappen was able to push his Red Bull to fifth on the grid, his team mate Daniel Ricciardo will start from tenth, after the Australian brought out the red flag towards the end of the first Q3 runs when he tagged the barriers at Turn Six and stopped on track.
“I’m not blaming the car, I was just chasing a bit too much,” Ricciardo said following the crash. “A bit frustrated but nothing to blame. Obviously, it was my mistake but without mistake it’s been a very good weekend.”
It was the best qualifying for the season for the Force India boys in sixth and seventh place, with Sergio Perez outpacing his team mate Esteban Ocon. The two by two theme carried on behind the Force India’s, as the Williams’ of Lance Stroll and Felipe Massa come next in eighth and ninth place respectively. It’s a great result for Stroll who, fresh from his first F1 points in Montreal, outpaced veteran team mate Massa for the first time in qualifying this season.
Starting just outside the top ten are the Toro Rosso’s of Daniil Kvyat in 11th and Carlos Sainz who qualified 12th. Unfortunately for Sainz he will drop to 15th following a three place grid penalty for his first lap incident at the previous race in Canada. This penalty promotes the Haas of Kevin Magnussen to 12th, the Renault of Nico Hulkenberg to 14th, and the Sauber of Pascal Wehrlein to 15th following another stunning qualifying for the German.
Meanwhile, already knowing they would be starting at the back of the grid with a 40 and 35 place grid penalties respectively, McLaren’s Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne dropped out in Q1.If he can take nothing else away from this rather abysmal weekend for McLaren Alonso can at least say he still maintains his perfect qualifying record against Vandoorne, who is yet to out qualify the Spaniard. Though that might be the only thing he can take away. He was blocked unfortunately on two occasions at the start of his hot lap in Q1, though Alonso was quick not to blame his fellow racers for their rather innocent mistake.
“Our speed is that slow that they think we are on a slow lap but no this is our speed, we are starting a timed lap so they get surprised a bit.” He explained to the media after the session in yet another slamming indictment of Honda.
McLaren have been spared the shame of a back row lockout though thanks to the Renault of Jolyon Palmer, who failed to even set a timed lap through no fault of his own. He car suffered an engine fire earlier in FP3, which resulted in the wiring looms being melted, a task that proved too time consuming for the mechanics to fix in time for Q1. As a result he couldn’t take part in the session. Having not taken part in qualifying, Renault will have to seek permission from the stewards for Palmer to race, something which is a formality considering Palmer has proved he can lap within 107% of the fastest time in Q1 this weekend.
Azerbaijan GP Qualifying Results
1. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 1:40.593
2. Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, +0.434
3. Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, +1.100
4. Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, +1.248
5. Max Verstappen, Red Bull, +1.286
6. Sergio Perez, Force India, +1.518
7. Esteban Ocon, Force India, +1.593
8. Lance Stroll, Williams, +2.160
9. Felipe Massa, Williams, +2.205
10. Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull, +2.821
11. Daniil Kvyat, Toro Rosso, 1:43.186
12. Carlos Sainz, Toro Rosso, 1:43.347 (Three place grid penalty yet to be applied)
13. Kevin Magnussen, Haas, 1:43.796
14. Nico Hulkenberg, Renault, 1:44.267
15. Pascal Wehrlein, Sauber, 1:44.603
16. Fernando Alonso, McLaren, 1:44.334 (40 place grid penalty yet to be applied)
17. Romain Grosjean, Haas, 1:44.468
18. Marcus Ericsson, Sauber, 1:44.795
19. Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren, 1:45.030 (35 grid place penalty yet to be applied)
20. Jolyon Palmer, Renault, No time set
Feature Image Credit: Williams Martini Racing Press Release