Hamilton bests Bottas for pole at Baku in inter-team Mercedes battle; Raikkonen & Vettel 3-4 for Ferrari
Mercedes Lewis Hamilton pipped his teammate Valtteri Bottas for pole in dramatic fashion at the Baku City Circuit in Azerbaijan this Saturday. Coming out of a Red Flag period caused by Daniel Ricciardo’s shunt, the drivers were left with only 3:33 to set a faster time than Bottas’ seemingly untouchable provisional pole run around the tight and treacherous turns of Baku. But despite this year’s tire compounds’ problematic and prolonged warm-up period, the cars lighter weight from fuel burn off at the end of the session saw no decrease in performance in that last minute scramble. And in fact Hamilton was able to set a blazer of a lap for his 66th career pole — breaking a tie for second all-time with his idol Ayrton Senna — even as his impressive first year teammate Bottas improved his speed on his way to a solid P2 start and a Mercedes front row lockout. Both Ferrarari’s were also able to jump up the pylon, albeit more than half a second behind the Silver Arrows, with Kimi Raikkonen besting his usually quicker teammate Sebastian Vettel, P3 to P4. In fairness, Vettel was forced to switch to an older power unit prior to quali so he might be a bit down on horsepower to the Finn. Watch for the Vettel and the Scuderia to have some tricks up their sleeves come race day.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was overtaken by both Prancing Horses at the end of the day but after a host of technical issues in the practice sessions he should probably feel well pleased with starting P5. Whether his increasingly fragile Renault power plant and RB13 chassis can make it to the end of Sunday’s race, however, remains to be seen. After his terminal slide into the wall late in Q3 the other Red Bull of Riccardo saw his fastest time, once good enough for P7, eclipsed by all the other runners in the final session and the Aussie will start back in P10. Force India look set to continue their increasingly tense drivers’ dual after their memorable spat in Montreal a fortnight ago, with Sergio Perez desperate to keep the rapidly improving your Estaban Ocon behind him in the team pecking order. Perez was faster than Ocon by a mere .07 and they will line up P6 and P7 respectively. And Williams Lance Stroll seemed to take his first-ever points scoring F1 race at his home Grand Prix in Canada and covert it into much needed confidence at this tricky track, looking quick all weekend and out-qualifying his veteran teammate Felipe Massa for the first time this year, P8 to P9.
Top 10 qualifiers for the Azerbaijan GP:
|5||33||RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER||1:42.544||1:41.961||1:41.879||22|
|6||11||FORCE INDIA MERCEDES||1:43.162||1:42.467||1:42.111||21|
|7||31||FORCE INDIA MERCEDES||1:43.051||1:42.751||1:42.186||21|
|10||3||RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER||1:42.857||1:42.215||1:43.414||20|
Tomorrow’s race airs live on NBC Sports starting at 9AM Eastern here in the States. Still a green circuit in only its second running, Baku has all the technical aspects that make for a really good F1 circuit. And with the walls just waiting to catch out the unsuspecting virtually anything could happen to any of the drivers in the race. Hope to see you then to see how it all shakes out!