It was a private battle for pole position between the two Mercedes drivers in Spanish Grand Prix qualifying, with championship leader Lewis Hamilton pipping team mate Valtteri Bottas by just 0.059s in extremely hot conditions at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
This was the second week in a row that the pole position margin has been 0.063s or lower, and Hamilton’s fourth pole in six races and 92nd of his career, as he also passed 150 front row starts.
Mercedes have made Barcelona their own in the last decade, taking six front row lock-outs in the last seven years, and they showed no signs of loosening that grip as Hamilton and Bottas ended the one hour session seven tenths of a second quicker than anyone else.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, winner of the last race at Silverstone, was their closest challenger in third, the Dutchman achieving the first top-three start in Spain of his F1 career.
FORMULA 1 ARAMCO GRAN PREMIO DE ESPAÑA 2020
|1 Lewis HAMILTON Mercedes||1:15.584|
|2 Valtteri BOTTAS Mercedes||1:15.643|
|3 Max VERSTAPPEN Red Bull Racing||1:16.292|
|4 Sergio PEREZ Racing Point||1:16.482|
|5 Lance STROLL Racing Point||1:16.589|
The returning Sergio Perez picked up where he left off before he tested positive for Covid 19 with a blistering turn of pace that put him fourth on the grid, equalling his career-best start and one place clear of Racing Point team mate Lance Stroll.
The other Red Bull of Alexander Albon rounded out the top six, but he was 0.5s adrift of team mate Verstappen in what was the biggest deficit between team mates involved in the top 10 shoot-out.
Carlos Sainz made an error on his first run, but recovered to snatch seventh in the closing seconds, usurping his McLaren team mate Lando Norris by a fraction for only the second time this year. It was also Sainz’s best start in Spain since 2015, when he started fifth for Toro Rosso.
Charles Leclerc was the leading Ferrari in ninth, with team mate Sebastian Vettel failing to make Q3 for the second race in succession.
Pierre Gasly outqualified AlphaTauri team mate Daniil Kvyat for the ninth race weekend in a row as he completed the top 10, with Kvyat two places further back in 12th.
Q1 – Raikkonen finally escapes Q1 in 2020
Hamilton wasted little time heading out on track to pump in a benchmark time, but his nearest rival was something of a surprise, with the returning Sergio Perez just a fraction behind in second.
The Racing Point RP20 looked in tremendous shape around the sweeping turns of the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, with Lance Stroll confirming their pace with the third quickest time, beating the other Mercedes of Bottas.
Elsewhere, there was finally something to smile about down at Alfa Romeo, as Kimi Raikkonen at last made it out of Q1 in 2020, scraping through in 15th. His team mate Antonio Giovinazzi wasn’t so lucky, the Italian ending up as the slowest qualifier for the first time in his career.
The Haas pace Romain Grosjean demonstrated on Friday was no where to be seen on Saturday, with both Kevin Magnussen and his team mate getting the boot in 16th and 17th respectively, with George Russell bemoaning being sent out in traffic for his final run as he suffered his first Q1 elimination since round one in Austria.
Knocked out: Magnussen, Grosjean, Russell, Latifi, Giovinazzi
Q2 – Soft tyres the compound of choice as teams avoid medium gamble
Mercedes started to stretch their legs a little in the second part of qualifying, with the soft tyre the compound of choice as teams avoided a gamble on the harder rubber.
Hamilton and Bottas led the way with ease, this time flanked by Verstappen who appeared slightly happier with the second segment in qualifying.
There were standout performances from Gasly, the Frenchman pumping in the fifth quickest time at the death, and Sainz, who has looked mighty since the team changed the engine ahead of final practice on Saturday.
There wasn’t such good news for Sebastian Vettel, the German missing out on the top 10 by just 0.002s to Lando Norris (who has been in Q3 every race this year) in what was his third exit in this segment in six races. However, he will at least get free choice of tyres to start Sunday’s race.
Kvyat was 12th quickest, the Russian outqualified by his team mate for the ninth consecutive race, with Renault looking off the boil as Daniel Ricciardo ended up a lowly 13th, his worst of the season, with Esteban Ocon – who crashed in FP3 – scoring the team’s worst qualifying performance of 2020 with 15th.
Knocked out: Vettel, Kvyat, Ricciardo, Raikkonen, Ocon
Q3 – Hamilton gets the upper hand again
Hamilton set the bar early on, but a gap of just 0.059s suggested pole could still go either way as the championship leader and his team mate Bottas prepared for their final runs.
But second time around, with temperatures still sweltering, Bottas failed to improve while Hamilton’s effort was more than four tenths slower than his benchmark.
Very few drivers improved on their second runs, and though Perez managed to, he stayed fourth overall.
Sainz was one of the few to put in a faster lap which lifted him up to seventh despite suffering understeer in the final sector that cost him time while Albon found enough time to move up two places to sixth.
The key quote
“I couldn’t go quicker on my second lap,” said pole-sitter Hamilton. “I thought I could but it just wasn’t a great lap. But the first one was decent, I guess, which did the job thankfully.
“But these guys do such an awesome job and we’re constantly learning. I’ve been here with the guys till 10pm last night looking over all the details, looking at how we can improve and what are the areas for the race that we could get better because these Red Bulls are super-fast.”
The Spanish Grand Prix kicks off at 1510 local time, which is 1210 UTC. Mercedes have locked out the front row for the seventh time in eight years, but will they manage to make their tyres last in the hot temperatures? Or might Verstappen try a different strategy and prove to be a thorn in their side once more?