Lewis Hamilton claimed the upper hand in the on-going in-house Mercedes battle as he took pole position for the Spanish Grand Prix, heading team-mate Nico Rosberg by 0.2s with Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo third, a full second adrift of the Mercedes. Sebastian Vettel’s troubled weekend continued as he broke down in Q3 with no drive from his power unit.
Williams Valterri Bottas was a contender for driver of the day with an impressive fourth fastest time for Williams, with Lotus’ Romain Grosjean impressive in fifth for Lotus.
The pole time was 4.5 seconds slower than in 2013. This is mostly due to the cut in downforce on the cars, with this Barcelona track heavily dependent on high speed aerodynamics. The hybrid turbo power units have less to do with it; straight line speeds are up at 337 km/h (210mph) on a Barcelona straight which is not particularly long.
After dominating practice on Friday, Hamilton complained in Q1 that the changes made to the car had made it worse. Rosberg topped Q1 and Q2,but Hamilton dug deep to take the pole. He was a tenth and a half faster than his team mate in both sectors 1 and 2, but dropped a tenth in sector 3, coming out ahead overall.
It is the 35th pole of Hamilton’s career, his fourth of this season and maintains Mercedes’ 100% pole record in 2014. It was Mercedes’ fifth pole in a row, the first time they have done that.
Having set the pace throughout Free Practice, Hamilton had been the favourite to ease to another first place start, however after seeing Rosberg set the pace in Q1 and Hamilton responding with, “What have we done to this car? We’ve made it worse”. it seemed an upset was on the cards.
The same occurred in the second phase of qualifying, this time with use of the medium tyre as a 1.2s buffer to their challengers allowed just one run on the hard Pirelli, as Rosberg held the top spot and looked to take somewhat surprising pole given Hamilton’s Friday pace.
As the final 12 minutes began the Mercedes duo were the first on track, completing most of a flying lap before being forced in to the pits due to a red flag. Sebastian Vettel crawled out of the pits in his Red Bull RB10 and, as on Friday, pulled to the side of the track and to a standstill.
With the session re-started the battle was able to commence once more, but this time Hamilton showed his true pace. A banker lap for both on a set of used mediums was quickly beaten as a fresh set of Pirelli’s were strapped to the W05 Hybrid and Hamilton lead a reverse of last year’s Spanish Grand Prix qualifying, where Rosberg had beaten Hanilton.
“I was really happy on Friday and we changed a couple of small things overnight, just the tiniest of tweaks. But it was a real handful today because track conditions had changed,” said Hamilton. “Nico had a strong P3 and first two sessions of qualifying, so we were making small adjustments to the differential to try and make improvements to how the car was handling for Q3. On that final run, I really had to eke out everything and more from the car and myself to get pole and I’m so happy that I managed it.”
One second adrift of Hamilton was Ricciardo, the best of the rest. He was quicker than Vettel in the first two phases of qualifying before a late lap in the final moments took him to his third top three of the season. He will be looking to achieve his first Formula One podium tomorrow, and with a 0.4s gap to those behind he should be able to do so, reliability permitting.
Joining him on row two will be Valtteri Bottas, who delivered a stellar performance in taking his Williams to fourth place and giving arguably the performance on the day. Romain Grosjean will question that, however, as he gave Lotus something to cheer about with fifth place.
His team-mate, however, had a disastrous outing. Pastor Maldonado kept his foot in on the exit on the long turn three, lost traction and was pitched in to a spin then in to the wall.
Joining Grosjean on the third-row is former team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, who was able to get a better hold of his Ferrari F14 T and ahead of Fernando Alonso, who will start in seventh place.
McLaren’s promising start to this weekend on Friday morning proved not to be enough to challenge Williams and Ferrari, but nevertheless allowed Jenson Button to set the eighth fastest time, ahead of Felipe Massa and Vettel.
Spanish Grand Prix, Barcelona, Qualifying
1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m25.232s
2. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m25.400s +0.168s
3. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1m26.285s +1.053s
4. Valtteri Bottas William 1m26.632s +1.400s
5. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1m26.960s +1.728s
6. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m27.104s +1.872s
7. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m27.140s +1.908s
8. Jenson Button McLaren 1m27.335s +2.103s
9. Felipe Massa William 1m27.402s +2.170s
10. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull
11. Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1m27.685s +1.597s
12. Sergio Perez Force India 1m28.002s +1.914s
13. Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1m28.039s +1.951s
14. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1m28.280s +2.192s
15. Kevin Magnussen McLaren
16. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso
17. Adrian Sutil Sauber 1m28.563s +1.799s
18. Max Chilton Marussia 1m29.586s +2.822s
19. Jules Bianchi Marussia 1m30.177s +3.413s
20. Marcus Ericsson Caterham 1m30.312s +3.548s
21. Kamui Kobayashi Caterham 1m30.375s +3.611s
22. Pastor Maldonado Lotus