Lewis Hamilton snatched pole position for the Spanish Grand Prix from teammate Nico Rosberg right at the very death as Mercedes continued their dominance of this Formula One season. Rosberg had just beaten Hamilton’s previous pace-setter with his final lap, before Hamilton edged the German out by just over a tenth of a second.
The gap to the rest of the grid was stark, with the next quickest driver, Daniel Ricciardo, qualifying over a second adrift of Hamilton. There was more misery for the Australian’s Red Bull teammate Sebastian Vettel, who lost power coming out of the pits and failed to set a time in the top-10 shootout and was later given a five-place grid penalty after he was forced to change his gearbox. There was better fortune for Williams’ Valtteri Bottas and especially Lotus’ Romain Grosjean, who will start an impressive fourth and fifth, respectively. They will be followed by the two Ferrari’s, with Kimmi Raikkonen out-qualifying home favorite Fernando Alonso.
Barring a huge shock, though, it looks set to be a fifth consecutive win for Mercedes. And after three straight victories, Hamilton will be looking to overhaul Rosberg at the top of the drivers’ championship. Havign lagged behind his teammate during Saturday’s practice and the first two sections of qualifying, Hamilton was delighted to have found the pace when it counted.
“I'm overwhelmed to get pole position because I've had a pretty tough day in the car, particularly after yesterday went so well,” he said, according to the official Formula One website. “I was really happy on Friday and we changed a couple of small things overnight, just the tiniest of tweaks. But it was a real handful today because track conditions had changed.
“Nico had a strong P3 and first two sessions of qualifying, so we were making small adjustments to the differential to try and make improvements to how the car was handling for Q3. On that final run, I really had to eke out everything and more from the car and myself to get pole and I'm so happy that I managed it.”
There were understandably contrasting emotions at the other side of the Mercedes garage, but Rosberg remained hopeful of maintaining his championship advantage and halting Hamilton’s momentum in the race.
“I had a good feeling throughout today and I quite enjoyed qualifying,” he explained. “I had a good lap at the end but Lewis just did a better job in Q3. Starting second is a bit of a disadvantage but it's such a long straight down to the first corner, so I will hope to have a better start than Lewis tomorrow and overtake him.”
For four-time world champion Vettel, this season has proved a chastening experience thus far, none more so than in Barcelona. The German was able to complete just four laps total in Friday’s practice sessions, but looked set for a better showing on Saturday before problems with his Red Bull resurfaced to leave him starting from an unfamiliar 15th on the grid.
“I was getting more in to the rhythm with each lap after missing yesterday's sessions,” he said. “It was quite close between the cars after the Mercedes and I think I could have had a go for P3 today, but we didn't get that far. I'm of course quite disappointed.”
Lotus have endured an even more drastic fall at the start of this season, meaning that Grosjean’s fine showing comes as a significant fillip. It was not all good news, though, with qualifying beginning with the Frenchman’s teammate Pastor Maldonado crashing into a wall, meaning he’ll start from the back of the grid at a race which he won in a Williams two years ago. The top ten on the grid in Spain will be rounded out by McLaren’s Jenson button, the second Williams of Felipe Massa and Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg.
Where to watch: The formula One Spanish Grand Prix will get underway at 8 a.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by NBCSN, with a live stream available on NBC Sports Live Extra.