Hamil­ton beats Bot­tas to pole for Span­ish GP

The Observer - Sport - - FRONT PAGE - Giles Richards

There was no sense of com­pla­cency and far from any sug­ges­tion that any­thing ex­cept a long, hard bat­tle lies ahead for Lewis Hamil­ton and Mercedes at to­day’s Span­ish Grand Prix. Yet it was hard not to dis­cern a sense of re­lief and sat­is­fac­tion after he claimed pole po­si­tion and in do­ing so com­pleted a pow­er­ful demon­stra­tion both of his skill and the fact Mercedes are still a force to be reck­oned with.

Hamil­ton’s 74th ca­reer pole is a re­turn to form just when he needed it, hav­ing been out­paced over the sin­gle lap at Bahrain and China by his team-mate Valt­teri Bot­tas – who was sec­ond here – and by Fer­rari’s Se­bas­tian Vet­tel, who took pole in the last three races but was third in Spain.

“It was im­por­tant for me to get back in to a good po­si­tion in qual­i­fy­ing, as it usu­ally a strength of mine,” Hamil­ton said. “For the team it’s been a strug­gle. I’m sure there have been a lot of peo­ple with nerves over the past few races, just not re­ally un­der­stand­ing, con­stantly learn­ing but feel­ing we’re not learn­ing quick enough. So to come here and get the one-two in qual­i­fy­ing is a true show of all the hard work ev­ery­one is do­ing. ”He warned, how­ever, that the se­ri­ous busi­ness lay ahead: “We have a lot of work to do to­mor­row, it is go­ing to be a tough race,”

Hamil­ton set a blis­ter­ing lap on his first run in Q3 and with the pres­sure on promptly im­proved, tak­ing pole with 1min 16.173sec. He needed to be at his best, pushed to the line by Bot­tas who was four-hun­dredths back with Vet­tel a tenth down.

At the heart of the re­vival is the science of putting the tyres in to their cor­rect tem­per­a­ture op­er­at­ing win­dow, a prob­lem that gen­er­ated its own heat yes­ter­day. After blis­ter­ing af­fected the rub­ber in test­ing here, Pirelli are us­ing a tyre with a thin­ner tread, less sus­cep­ti­ble to over­heat­ing.

Mercedes prin­ci­pally have strug­gled with it, while Vet­tel sug­gested the new rub­ber was to Fer­rari’s dis­ad­van­tage. “The tyres this week­end are dif­fer­ent be­cause ob­vi­ously we had the change, it’s for ev­ery­one, but I think they are a bit harder,” he said.

Toto Wolff dis­missed claims it had been im­ple­mented for Mercedes’s ben­e­fit as “bol­locks”. Nonethe­less the grip and bal­ance that eluded Hamil­ton for the past three races had been un­locked.

Hamil­ton has a nar­row four-point lead over Vet­tel and will be buoyed by the fact that the team have the car per­form­ing at the open­ing of the Euro­pean sea­son, de­scrib­ing it as “a re­lief” that they fi­nally had the tyres work­ing after sec­ond prac­tice.

Fer­rari did not have the quite the pace of their ri­vals over the sin­gle lap but prac­tice form sug­gests they will be com­pet­i­tive in race pace. It is Mercedes, how­ever, who start as strong favourites. Their per­for­mance was sim­i­lar to in Aus­tralia, where Hamil­ton proved omi­nously dom­i­nant. The job is by no means com­plete but they can be rightly op­ti­mistic.

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