Mercedes fix tyre is­sues to put Hamil­ton back in busi­ness

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

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - CRICKET / FORMULA ONE - 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 team­mate 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 17 th.

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.

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

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