Lewis Hamilton made a powerful statement that he is ready to strike back in the Formula 1 title battle by beating Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg to pole position at the Spanish Grand Prix. Hamilton came into the weekend trailing Rosberg by 43 points in the drivers’ standings, after the German took victory in the first four races of the season.
But he set a supreme final flying lap in Saturday’s qualifying to get the better of Rosberg by 0.280 seconds. It was a also a day to savor for Red Bull, who locked up the front row of the grid, with Daniel Ricciardo just getting the better of new teammate Max Verstappen. Ferrari were left to settle for fifth and sixth.
It is Hamilton who will lead the way off the grid on Sunday thanks to a superb response to a trying few weeks. Engine problems led to the three-time world champion starting a long way down the grid in both China and Russia, and unable to get the better of Rosberg on race day. He was also bested by his teammate through all three practice sessions in Barcelona. But with this performance he now has three pole positions for the season, following his efforts to start the year in Australia and Bahrain.
“Very very happy with getting the lap.,” Hamilton said in the post-qualifying press conference. “Obviously Nico has been really strong all weekend so it was crucial that bit by bit I have been really trying to bring the pace together. The guys back at the factory have been working so hard over the last two weeks really trying to rectify the problems we have. This is now three out of three for me so I'm pretty happy. Obviously, I didn’t get to compete over the last two qualifying sessions.”
The task now is for Hamilton to get off the line cleanly, something he failed to do in both Australia and Bahrain.
“I’ve been working on the starts,” Hamilton commented after qualifying.
Rosberg subsequently made it clear that he sees the start as the perfect opportunity to seize the advantage, as he sets his sights on an eight straight victory, dating back to last year.
“I'm for sure disappointed to be second,” he said. “I wanted to be first today of course, but Lewis was quicker in qualifying today and that's it. But fortunately it's the race that counts. There are still a couple of opportunities tomorrow for sure, at the start for example. Strategy wise, it's not going to be an easy race tomorrow so I will try and take my chances there.”
As well as Hamilton’s return to form, the biggest story of the day was the pace shown by Red Bull. For a long time, it appeared that 18-year-old Verstappen was set for an even remarkable first qualifying showing for this new team. The Dutch driver was promoted from Red Bull’s sister team Toro Rosso in place of Daniil Kvyat following the Russia Grand Prix. And he immediately showed the speed that has long earmarked him as a future superstar, for a long time running in the top two and quicker than his teammate. Even though he dropped back at the end he still ensured the best starting position to a F1 Grand Prix for a teenager for 55 years.
It took a fine response from Ricciardo at the end of qualifying to get the better of Verstappen and take third before unleashing a yelp of delight over the radio.
“Really happy to be back here in this [top-three] press conference, and try to be here tomorrow,” the Australian said. "Happy to be in front of both Ferraris as well. Both of us. Max was doing really good — we are both on the second row so that's pretty awesome.”
There was far less to smile about for Ferrari. The team has been beset by frustrating technical problems in the early races of the season, and president Sergio Marchionne piled the pressure on the team ahead of this weekend by saying that he “expects” a win in Spain. They will have it all to do on Sunday, though, after Kimi Raikkonen qualified fifth, one place ahead of teammate Sebastian Vettel.
“We speak to him internally and not just what is through in the newspaper,” Vettel told NBC Sports of Marchionne’s comments. “It doesn't affect us the way you might think. We are disappointed as a team today because we didn't deliver what we can, we need go have a look and understand. We can’t change that now, so tomorrow is another day and we know that the car can be very strong. We ned to make sure we get it right.”
It was a more encouraging session for the man Vettel replaced at Ferrari last year, Fernando Alonso. Arriving in Spain with a host of upgrades, McLaren made it into Q3 for the first time since reuniting with Honda last year, as Alonso, in his home Grand Prix, claimed 10th place on the grid. He will start ahead of ninth place Sergio Perez and Carlos Sainz in his Toro Rosso in eighth. Valtteri Bottas was seventh, but it was a poor day for his Williams team with Felipe Massa not even making it out of Q1 and left to start from 18th on the grid.
Race time: 8 a.m. EDT
TV channel: NBCSN
Live stream: NBC Sports Live Extra