NASCAR Race Weekend Central

F1: Hamilton Leads Mercedes 1-2 in Spain Qualifying

Lewis Hamilton broke Sebastian Vettel’s three consecutive pole positions as the Briton recorded a new track record of 1:16:173 to lead a Mercedes 1-2 on Saturday afternoon to set the stage for this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix at Circuit Barcelona-Catalunya. Valtteri Bottas was second, while Vettel was third.

“Definitely the team has been working so hard, so a huge thank you to everyone working hard back at the factory,” he said to ESPN F1. “We really tried to continue to understand and be open-minded, it is easy for us to get stuck in our ways, and we definitely let loose and be open-minded to try to improve which is great. That is what it takes to be a winning team.

It was a very close qualifying and you could see all weekend that Ferrari were clearly sand-bagging because they knew they had a quick car, but it took everything from us to get this result and to get the 1-2 in qualifying is fantastic for the team. Everyone will be very, very happy and obviously, it was very close as Valtteri has been driving exceptionally well, they should call him the flying Finn as he’s taken that well. We’ve got a lot of work to do for tomorrow as it is going to be a tough race, but it is definitely a good way to start the weekend.”

Hamilton turned his winning lap midway through the final session, which gave everyone else a good amount of time remaining to try and beat it. Ferrari looked good with both Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen doing well in the first two sessions, but found themselves 5th and 7th, respectively before they moved up to qualify on the second row for Sunday’s race.

Brendon Hartley never qualified at all after crashing his car in the morning’s free practice three, wrecking the rear of his Toro Rosso. Hartley will start the race from the back of the grid. Lance Stroll, for the second time this week, spun off the track, this time in the final sector, and got bogged in the gravel and exited round one. One big surprise was Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg, who for the first time since 2015, was knocked out of the opening session. Both Force Indias of Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez, advanced into the second round, did not advance to the third.

The Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo looked good going into the final session, but could only finish in fifth and sixth, respectively. The American Haas F1 Team returned to a fine performance as Kevin Magnussen took seventh and Romain Grosjean finished in tenth. The Spanish fans were also treated to their money’s worth as Fernando Alonso took eighth and Carlos Sainz Jr. finished ninth.

For Hamilton, it was a relief to finally win his first pole since the opening round in Australia, and his 74th of his career. But Hamilton himself is at a loss for words as what happened earlier in the season when the team was struggling with its tire performance.

“It is a constant learning process but these tires they seem to have a small working window whether they give us more rubber or less rubber they appear to be a lot harder than last year even though they went softer. I think that is because the working range is far narrower than it was last year, so you give it everything on an out lap and you still don’t have your tires in the window and they heat the tires up in the blankets. That’s why everyone struggles, and I don’t understand why they worked in Australia but haven’t worked ever since and today we had them working. I was saying to Valtteri (Bottas) when we get to Monaco we’ll be driving around with cold tires because it is not easy to get temperatures up there.”

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