BAKU, Azerbaijan — It might have taken Lewis Hamilton the entire Q3 session to achieve his 66th pole position, but he did in grand fashion, beating teammate Valtteri Bottas right at the end.
“My pole lap in Montreal was pretty special, but I think this one here tops that,” Hamilton said. “My first run in Q3 was actually really good, but I was a bit greedy into the last corner, locked up and cost myself time. After the red flag, there was a lot of pressure on that final lap.”
“All weekend we’ve struggled to switch the car on over a single lap, but it was an all or nothing moment so I just gave it everything I had. Valtteri was on a great lap as well, so when I came across the line and saw that I had pole, it was such a good feeling. Even if that time had only been enough for P2 it was a lap to be proud of. We were struggling yesterday but we made a lot of changes overnight. A big thank you to the team who stayed late last night to get the car to where it is today – they did a fantastic job.”
Jolyon Palmer had a fuel fire in his Renault during FP3, which put his appearance in qualifying in doubt. McLaren, too, was unlucky, with Fernando Alonso getting a 40-place grid penalty due to mechanical changes. Teammate Stoffel Vandoorne would get a 35-place grid penalty for the same.
Hamilton went fastest in Q1, with a 1:41.9, the fastest-ever lap of the Baku circuit up to that point, but Max Verstappen was doing well after a poor FP3, sitting second for most of the session.
Force India ended up ninth and 10th, Ocon leading Perez. The duo had been in the top five for the early part of the session. Lance Stroll finished 12th in Q1, having broken a three-race streak of being knocked out in that session.
While Alonso and Vandoorne were knocked out along with Palmer and Marcus Ericsson’s Sauber, Romain Grosjean had another rough session. Having had brake issues for most of Friday in his Haas, the Frenchman ended up 17th, but would move up a spot due to Alonso’s penalty.
It was once again Hamilton at the top of the timesheets in Q2, going ever faster with a 1:41.275, but it was Sebastian Vettel who was up to second, 0.636 behind. Verstappen sat third, with Valtteri Bottas fourth.
Stroll made it through to Q3, just ahead of teammate Felipe Massa. Force India also made it through to Q3, Perez in eighth and Ocon in 10th.
“It was a good day, and it has been a good weekend,” Stroll said. “I am comfortable and confident in the car. I like the circuit and today everything fell into place. I missed a bit in Q3, and I think there was some more that was possible there, as we were four tenths off compared to my lap in Q2.”
“I missed a bit in Q3, and I think there was some more that was possible there, as we were four tenths off compared to my lap in Q2. In Q3, because the track temperatures had dropped, it was hard to get the tyres ready in one lap and also because of the red flag, we only had time to do one push lap. Sometimes round here it is better when you do one push lap, then another prep lap and then another push lap. But it is still a great result and I am just happy for the team.”
Toro Rosso had a dismal Q2, with Daniil Kvyat and Carlos Sainz 11th and 12th. Kevin Magnussen ended up 13th in his Haas after destroying his tires in a slide. Nico Hulkenberg and Pascal Wehrlein ended up 14th and 15th.
The run for pole would be decided in the 12-minute Q3. Bottas set the early pole time with a 1:47.201, but that was just a time to feel out the circuit.
Hamilton put in a gutsy run, but a slight off at Turn 16 meant he could only get second as Bottas dipped into the 1:41s with a 1:41.274, the fastest lap of the circuit up to that point. Hamilton was on a 1:41.428.
The session was interrupted by a red flag with 3:33 after Daniel Ricciardo tagged the wall coming out of Turn six in his Red Bull, damaging the left-rear wheel.
The session restarted, and Verstappen and the two Mercedes were the first out.
One shot remained for pole, and Bottas was pushing hard for it. Hamilton was setting personal best times, but did not seem to have the ability to go outright quickest. That was, however, until sector two, when he went outright quickest, and grabbed pole.
Hamilton moves into sole second position behind Michael Schumacher. Despite emulating his hero Ayrton Senna last time out in Montreal, Hamilton said he really wanted anoher pole.
“Well, I mean it’s already an amazing thing to have matched him,” he said. “The crazy thing is the hunger for another pole… I thought maybe once I matched him maybe it would fade but I was hungrier than ever today, even more hungry than I was before, so that’s a good thing, and I’m grateful for that ‘cos that’s what drives me and yeah, hopefully I’ll continue to grow and get better as a driver – and as a human being. That’s the goal. Everyday.”