Sebastian Vettel has secured his third successive pole in a nail-biting qualifying session at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
Vettel had to rely on his first flying lap of the session after locking up on his second attempt, but it proved sufficient, with Hamilton improving only enough to be 0.179 seconds off the pace.
“In the last segment of qualifying I knew I had the car that does what I want,” Vettel said. “I knew on the second run the track would ramp up. I was a little bit faster, but then I locked up – it caught me by surprise for Turn 3.
“The first lap I was really happy. Fortunately it was enough.”
Hamilton was buoyed by his team’s turnaround from a difficult Friday and was looking forward to challenging Ferrari in the race.
“That was close!” he said. “We did the best job we could – it was very, very close.
“We’re in the mix. This is the fifth-best track to overtake, so I’m going to try to give Sebastian a hard time tomorrow.”
Valtteri Bottas was 0.15 seconds behind his teammate in third and said he was hoping a chaotic race would help him claim Mercedes’s first win of the season.
“The race here can be really crazy,” he said. “Last year I was one lap down after lap one and ended up second, but at least now we have a good starting point.”
Red Bull Racing teammates Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen qualified fourth and fifth and both are confident that their race pace will have them in contention for victory on Sunday.
Kimi Raikkonen was a disappointed sixth after threatening to claim pole for himself. The Finn topped the first two qualifying segments and was on track to snatch P1 from his teammate with an impressive final lap, but an enormous tank-slapper out of the difficult Turn 16 lost him more than a second and took him out of contention.
Force India’s Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez confidently locked out the fourth row, one second off pole position but half a second in front of Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz. Hulkenberg, despite qualifying ninth, will start the race from 14th after serving a gearbox change penalty.
Lance Stroll missed out on the top 10 by just 0.1 seconds and led his Williams teammate, Sergey Sirotkin, in 11th and 12th. It was an impressive result for the team considering it has been struggling with straight-line speed all season, and it was doubly so considering both drivers outqualified McLaren’s Fernando Alonso in 13th. Alonso outpaced Sauber’s Charles Leclerc in P14 and Haas’s Kevin Magnussen in P15.
Stoffel Vandoorne was pipped by Lance Stroll for a spot in Q1, the Belgian qualifying 16th.
Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly was furious to have qualified 17th after he was forced to abort his final hot lap to avoid colliding with his teammate, Brendon Hartley.
Hartley was limping back to the pits with a puncture in one of the fastest parts of the track when he was caught unawares by his teammate fast approaching behind him. Hartley had failed to set a lap time before the incident, having been hampered by yellow flags, and qualified 19th.
Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson qualified between Gasly and Hartley in P18.
Romain Grosjean was an early retirement from qualifying, lasting just five minutes before stopping on track with what the Frenchman described as a “locked gearbox.” Grosjean had locked up and taken to an escape road twice when he reported the problem, which prevented him from engaging reverse gear to rejoin the track. It left the Haas driver without a lap time and last on the grid.