Lewis Hamilton took pole position at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix with a remarkable last-minute lap that put him 0.434s clear of Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas in second.Hamilton’s advantage was all about the second and third sectors where he lit up the timing screens as he nailed apex after apex in the tighter sections of the street circuit.
The pressure was on after a mistake at Turn 16 on his first attempt left him second to Bottas and it was amplified when the session was suspended to allow marshals to clear Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull, which had hit the barriers at Turn 6 with 3:33 left on the clock. When Q3 restarted Bottas was able to lower his benchmark, but it was no match for Hamilton’s 1:40.593 that smashed the circuit record by over a second and secured the the Mercedes driver’s 66th career pole.
Both Ferraris were a second adrift of Mercedes and it was Kimi Raikkonen, not championship-leader Sebastian Vettel, who joined the Mercedes drivers in the top three. Vettel had missed out on practice time due to a hydraulics issue in FP3, which also required an engine change that put Ferrari on the back foot ahead of qualifying. However, it was very nearly worse for Vettel as he only had a 0.038s margin over Max Verstappen in fifth when the chequered flag fell at the end of the session.
Force India followed up on its promising practice pace with sixth and seventh on the grid ahead of the two Williams of Lance Stroll and Felipe Massa. Ricciardo had to settle for tenth after his collision with the wall at Turn 6 broke the left rear wheel rim of his Red Bull.
Fernando Alonso was knocked out of qualifying in Q1 after a mistake at Turn 16 on his final lap, but with a 40-place grid penalty hanging over him following a series of power unit changes this weekend he would have started from the back row regardless of his lap time. Romain Grosjean also failed to make the cut for Q2 after a mistake at Turn 2 on his last flying lap saw run wide. He will start 16th once Alonso’s penalty is applied with Marcus Ericsson moving up one place to 17th.
Stoffel Vandoorne’s McLaren is also subject to a grid penalty, but with ‘just’ a 35-place penalty he will start ahead of Alonso on the grid. Jolyon Palmer failed to make it out on track after Renault were unable to repair the fire damage sustained when his car stopped on track in final practice. He will start 18th, ahead of the two McLarens, on Sunday’s grid