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Lewis Hamilton

Baku Qualifying: Hamilton hammers them again

Lewis Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton delivered another mega-lap to claim his 66th pole position, topping the timing screens at the end of qualifying for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, and with it the Briton overtook Ayrton Senna’s milestone of 65 pole position starts and is now only two short of bettering the all-time record held by Michael Schumacher.

Like in Canada, Hamilton kept his best for last, digging deep under the long shadows of the Baku City Circuit, to depose his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas who will start the grand prix in second.

In the end it all came down to a single flying lap at the very end of Q3.

With 3.33 minutes remaining in the session – just as everyone was ready for a final banzai lap – Daniel Ricciardo tagged the wall exiting Turn 6 with the left rear of his Red Bull, which stopped in the middle of the track, prompting a red flag period as the marshals cleared the car.

At that point, the smart money would have been on Bottas taking pole as he topped the timing screens, with Hamilton second.

Reason being that it was taking two laps to heat up the Pirelli red band tyres and get them working in an optimum window. Three and a half minutes would only allow for one flyer in the final moments.

It would take something very special to unseat Bottas from pole, and indeed it came in the form of another jaw dropping Hamilton lap, which was almost half a second better than his teammate’s best and over a second up on the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen who was third quickest.

The lap time of 1:40.593  which Hamilton managed to extract in those final minutes came out of the blue, and he was also the only driver to dip into the 100 seconds zone around F1’s second longest race track.

It had been a haphazard Friday for him and even in FP3 he gave no hint of what he had in his arsenal, while in contrast Bottas seemed to have the upper-hand right up until those final three minutes.

Hamilton said afterwards, “That was one of the most exciting laps I’ve had all year. A lot of pressure as we’ve been struggling with getting temperature in the tyres, I was just praying it was enough.”

“I’m so pumped with that. Our team worked hard to get us back out there for one last lap. Amazing,” added the triple F1 World Champion.

Bottas seemed to have it in the bag when the red flag waved late on in Q3, and even went quicker in his final flyer, but it was short of his teammate’s best and he had to settle for second. Nevertheless he did his bit for yet another one-two on the grid for the Silver Arrows.

He summed up his final effort, “The lap in the end wasn’t quite perfect, I was struggling with the front-left temperature. Disappointing, but second place is not bad.”

In the Ferrari camp things went awry for Sebastian Vettel during FP3 a few hours earlier and he was never quite comfortable during qualifying. He was fourth fastest behind teammate Raikkonen. 

The Finn said of the session, “Obviously it’s better than I’ve had, but I was struggling with the temperature of the tyres. Luckily the last set had a better feeling. We are close enough.”

Vettel was disappointed, “The result is Ok but I’m not entirely happy. This morning didn’t help but it’s not an excuse, we are doing a lot of laps. At the end I was alone and had no tow in the last sector. I’m no fan of excuses, I could have done a bit better but probably P3 was the maximum.” 

Red Bull looked good for a fight throughout free practice, but when the wick was seriously turned up they were no match for Mercedes and Ferrari.

Max Verstappen salvaged some pride, in the wake of Ricciardo’s incident, by claiming the fifth best time, albeit 1.3 seconds down on Hamilton’s top time. Ricciardo was tenth fastest.

The Dutch teenager said,  “It’s not really nice to be in fifth. Of course the problem in Q3 was not ideal but in Q2 I had some problems with the limiter. In Q3 on my final lap, where it all counts, I was two tenths faster but then had a problem with my gear sync, so on the straights I was losing a lot of lap time.”

“That was very painful. We need to get on top of that because it shouldn’t happen. You can see there’s a bit more horsepower so that’s good, but you always want more. I’m a bit disappointed because we should have been third, so we’ve definitely made a step forward,” concluded Verstappen.

Sergio Perez was also adrift of his Force India teammate Esteban Ocon before the red flag interrupted the session, but the Mexican raised his game to claim the sixth fastest time, seven hundredth of a second better than his French teammate.

Perez summed up, “It was a good run. A lot of pressure on my last lap as I was 100m from the line when the red flag went out. We are really close to the Red Bull but not quite there.

“We have seen there are two categories in F1 and we are in the second one but we will see,” added the Force India driver.

Teenage rookie Lance Stroll made it in to Q3 for the first time in his career, and then went one better to out-qualify his veteran teammate Felipe Massa for the first time this season. The Williams duo will start eighth and ninth respectively.

It was yet another miserable session for McLaren as both Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne failed to make it beyond Q1, while Jolyon Palmer failed to make it into qualifying as his team worked on repairing his Renault which was damaged during a fire in FP3.

Final word to Hamilton’s boss Niki Lauda, “Lewis with his lap, I’ve never seen anything like it.  It was not plain sailing at all but we did a lot of digging and in the end the improvement the engineers and mechanics did was outstanding.

“Lewis, what he did today, nobody else I think can do that. He’s fantastic. The difference he makes to everybody is only Lewis,” added Lauda.

Blow-By-Blow

It was Hamilton who made the running in Q1 with the Briton setting the pace thanks to a lap of 1:41.983. Behind him, Verstappen recovered from the hydraulic issues that sidelined him towards the end of FP3 and took second place in Q1 just over half a second behind the Mercedes man. Räikkönen was third ahead of  Ricciardo and Kvyat. Sebastian Vettel, who had also suffered a hydraulic issue in FP3, was sixth.

At the other end of the spectrum, Alonso’s lap of 1:44.334 was the P15 target in the closing stages. Grosjean, in P16 and a tenth behind the McLaren man, looked the most likely to advance, but in the end the Frenchman couldn’t find the pace. It was team-mate  Magnussen who made the most of the final runs and the Dane vaulted from P17 an eventual P15 to push Alonso out of the session ahead of Grosjean, Marcus Ericsson, Stoffel Vandoorne in the second McLaren and Palmer who did not take part in the session following a car fire in FP3. Both McLarens are set for heavy overnight grid penalties, however.

Hamilton again set the pace in Q2, this time by quite a margin. After the opening runs Hamilton sat in P1 just ahead of Bottas and Räikkönen but with his second outing the Briton decimated the competition, setting a benchmark of 1:41.275. As the segment edged to a close only Verstappen seemed to be able to operate in the same timeframe as Hamilton and the Dutchman took P2 with a lap of 1:41.961.

However in the final moments, Vettel, who had been low key to that point, vaulted to P2 six hundredths clear of Verstappen. Bottas got closer still to Hamilton to finish with a time of 1:41.502, 0.227 behind his team-mate.

Eliminated in in P11 was Kvyat, with team-mate  Sainz 0.161 behind the Russian. Magnussen was 13th for Haas ahead of Hulkenberg and Wehrlein.

The first runs in Q3 saw Bottas seize the early initiative as drivers went for two timed laps on their opening runs. The Finn set a benchmark of 1:41.274 with Hamilton, who made a small errors in P2, with a time of 1:41.428.

The session was brought to a halt, however, when Ricciardo clipped the wall on the exit of Turn 5 and damaged his rear left wheel. He was left stranded on track after Turn 6 and the red flags came out.

With 3m33s left on the clock it became clear that there would be time for another run but that drivers would only get one timed lap and it was Hamilton who made the most of it.

The Briton powered through the 1m41s barrier, the only man to do that in the session, with a lap of 1:40.593. That was good enough to earn his 66th career pole position and move into second place in the list of all-time pole positions, one clear of his great hero Ayrton Senna.

Bottas took P2 with a time of 1:41.027 with Räikkönen third with a lap of 1:41.693. Championship leader Vettel had to settle for fourth place ahead of Verstappen, with Perez in sixth place, just in front of team-mate Ocon. Stroll had a good session to qualify eighth for Williams, four hundredths ahead of team-mate Massa. Tenth place went to the unfortunate Ricciardo.

Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Baku City Circuit – Qualifying, Best Laps

POSNODRIVERCARQ1Q2Q3LAPS
144Lewis HamiltonMERCEDES1:41.9831:41.2751:40.59320
277Valtteri BottasMERCEDES1:43.0261:41.5021:41.02723
37Kimi RäikkönenFERRARI1:42.6781:42.0901:41.69323
45Sebastian VettelFERRARI1:42.9521:41.9111:41.84123
533Max VerstappenRED BULL RACING TAG HEUER1:42.5441:41.9611:41.87922
611Sergio PerezFORCE INDIA MERCEDES1:43.1621:42.4671:42.11121
731Esteban OconFORCE INDIA MERCEDES1:43.0511:42.7511:42.18621
818Lance StrollWILLIAMS MERCEDES1:43.6131:42.2841:42.75321
919Felipe MassaWILLIAMS MERCEDES1:43.1651:42.7351:42.79822
103Daniel RicciardoRED BULL RACING TAG HEUER1:42.8571:42.2151:43.41420
1126Daniil KvyatTORO ROSSO1:42.9271:43.186 19
1255Carlos SainzTORO ROSSO1:43.4891:43.347 20
1320Kevin MagnussenHAAS FERRARI1:44.0291:43.796 18
1427Nico HulkenbergRENAULT1:43.9301:44.267 12
1594Pascal WehrleinSAUBER FERRARI1:44.3171:44.603 18
1614Fernando AlonsoMCLAREN HONDA1:44.334  9
178Romain GrosjeanHAAS FERRARI1:44.468  10
189Marcus EricssonSAUBER FERRARI1:44.795  10
192Stoffel VandoorneMCLAREN HONDA1:45.030  8

Q1 107% Time – 1:49.121 Note – Palmer did not participate following a car fire in FP3 so races at stewards’ discretion