Hamilton beats Bottas to pole for Spanish GP
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.