HAMIL­TON

Cham­pi­onship leader Vet­tel also in front row

New Straits Times - - Sport -

BARCELONA

LEWIS Hamil­ton took pole po­si­tion at the Span­ish Grand Prix for the se­cond suc­ces­sive year yes­ter­day with Ferrari’s cham­pi­onship leader Se­bas­tian Vet­tel just miss­ing out but join­ing the Mercedes driver on the front row.

The pole was the 64th of the Bri­ton’s ca­reer, one short of his late Brazil­ian boy­hood idol Ayr­ton Senna on the all-time list and with record holder Michael Schu­macher’s 68 in his sights.

It was also the 250th by a Bri­tish driver in Formula One.

All but three of the last 16 races in Spain have been won from the top slot, leav­ing Hamil­ton with ev­ery chance of tak­ing his se­cond vic­tory of the sea­son to­day to cut Vet­tel’s 13-point lead.

“I’m su­per proud that we can get back up there. My last lap was so-so but I could see the fans cheer­ing and all the flags,” said the triple cham­pion, in­ter­viewed on the fin­ish line in front of the crowd in a new de­par­ture for the sport.

Hamil­ton’s team­mate Valt­teri Bot­tas, a first-time win­ner in Rus­sia two weeks ago, qual­i­fied third, with Ferrari’s Kimi Raikko­nen fourth.

Dutch teenager Max Ver­stap­pen, who be­came Formula One’s youngest win­ner in Spain last year af­ter Hamil­ton and then team mate and 2016 cham­pion Nico Ros­berg col­lided at the start, will line up fifth for Red Bull.

Vet­tel’s car needed an en­gine change be­tween fi­nal prac­tice and qual­i­fy­ing, and he praised his me­chan­ics for their ef­forts in get­ting it all done with min­utes to spare.

“They did an en­gine change in sub two hours. It’s a mir­a­cle they got me out,” he said.

On a roller­coaster af­ter­noon, the Ger­man missed out on a se­cond suc­ces­sive pole by a mere 0.051 of a se­cond af­ter lock­ing up and run­ning wide at the fi­nal chi­cane. “I had it, I had it,” he said rue­fully over the ra­dio.

He could at least thank his lucky stars, or years of ex­pe­ri­ence, to get that far af­ter be­ing told to stop the car soon af­ter qual­i­fy­ing had started.

The four times world cham­pion hes­i­tated to obey the in­struc­tion, how­ever. “Seems bet­ter now,” he said and car­ried on. “OK, box, Se­bas­tian, box,” he was told.

“OK, you can push,” came the even­tual ra­dio mes­sage from the pit wall, with the prob­lem ap­par­ently re­solved. He then set the fastest lap of the ses­sion be­fore Hamil­ton and Raikko­nen went quicker.

Dou­ble world cham­pion Fernando Alonso, whose McLaren broke down in first prac­tice and was slow­est over­all on Fri­day, en­joyed a mirac­u­lous trans­for­ma­tion — and de­lighted his home crowd — by qual­i­fy­ing an as­ton­ish­ing sev­enth.

“Maybe it was at the oval (where) I learnt how to go quick on the straights,” said the Spa­niard. “P7 is a gift and we will see what we can do to­mor­row.

“Some­times the week­ends start the wrong way but then they fix them­selves, and vice versa. The im­por­tant thing is to­mor­row, to try to get a few points.”

“It was bet­ter than ex­pected but the sup­port from the peo­ple gives you a few ex­tra tenths.” Reuters

AFP PIC

Ferrari’s Se­bas­tian Vet­tel check­ing out Lewis Hamil­ton’s Mercedes af­ter the qual­i­fy­ing ses­sion at the Cir­cuit de Catalunya yes­ter­day.

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