Friday saw Red Bull in great form and Lewis Hamilton again having his fair share of problems. Saturday proved to be a different story though as Hamilton led a 1-2 for Mercedes in qualifying.
After the problems of Friday, Mercedes rallied in final practice but it was Valtteri Bottas who was fastest, 0.095 seconds ahead of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen. Lewis Hamilton was back in third, 0.416 seconds behind his team-mate. At least his Mercedes seemed to be dealing better with the track than on Friday.
It wasn’t a great session for championship leader Sebastian Vettel. He started late as his engineers investigated a problem with his Ferrari. Twenty minutes and one recorded lap later, he was back in the pits with a water leak suspected to be the problem. He finished the session in 12th place.
After his great Friday, Max Verstappen finished sixth fastest in final practice. Worryingly though his Red Bull suffered a suspected hydraulic problem forcing him to end his session ten minutes early. Daniel Ricciardo was fourth fastest but 0.545 seconds behind Bottas.
Fernando Alonso was 14th fastest but had more bad though hardly shocking news, when learning he’s been given a 40 place grid penalty for his McLaren having used too many engine parts with another engine change before this session. His team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne is slightly luckier, he’s only got a 30-place grid penalty as the McLaren nightmares continue. Another driver having yet more problems was Renault’s Jolyon Palmer, who this time saw his session cut short with flames and smoke pouring out of the back of his car.
As is often the case, Lewis Hamilton pulled out a great lap just when he needed it the most and secured pole position for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
It didn’t look as if Hamilton was going to finish on pole as he trailed Bottas. It looked as if time might be running out for him after Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull slid into the wall at Turn Six, forcing the session to be suspended. However despite the fact there was only three and a half minutes left, there was still enough time left for the British driver to produce a wonder lap and finish 0.434 seconds clear of his team-mate Valtteri Bottas. After all that Red Bull encouragement on Friday, it was Raikkonen and Vettel who finished third and fourth fastest respectively. Max Verstappen finished in fifth and blamed a gear-shift problem feeling but for that he could have grabbed third. Daniel Riccardio was back in tenth nearly three seconds behind Hamilton.
“That was one of the most exciting laps I’ve had all year and a lot of pressure,” Hamilton said after securing a pole position that takes him just two behind the record. “The first lap I easily had the time but I made a mistake in the last corner. It was all or nothing but the lap just got better and better throughout. I saw Valtteri ahead and knew he was doing a good lap. I was like, ‘please be enough’. I am ecstatic,” he added.
Sebastian Vettel is 12 points ahead of Hamilton and could well leave Azerbaijan in second place in the championship. He had engine problems on Saturday and needed a last-minute engine change before qualifying began. That had less power than the Mercedes though so pole was never really a possibility and he was 1.248 seconds behind Hamilton. “We were not quick enough. The gap to Mercedes in front was bigger than anyone expected,” Vettel said afterwards. However, he still believes that “we can be a match” in the actual race on Sunday.
The McLaren misery continued with Alonso failed to get out of Q1 for the first time this season and Vandoorne qualifying slowest but it’s to the back of the grid for both of them on Sunday. Not quite the back though as poor old Jolyon Palmer has that ‘honour.’ That engine fire in final practice meant his Renault was unable to take part in qualifying.
So we head into Sunday and it looks to be an extremely interesting race. Mercedes struggled on Friday but were much better today. Red Bull couldn’t keep up their improved form and Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen didn’t have the best of times in their Ferrari’s on Saturday. Lewis Hamilton could well be on the way to another win but with there already having been several crashes this weekend, safety cars etc could well play a part. Whatever happens I hope you enjoy your racing.