Lewis Hamilton beat teammate Valtteri Bottas by just 0.040s as Mercedes held off Sebastian Vettel’s late charge in qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix.
The Ferraris struggled on the first run on supersoft tires in Q3 – with Vettel fifth and Kimi Raikkonen seventh – but switched to softs for the final attempts and clearly improved. Raikkonen went second initially before Hamilton lowered the benchmark to a 1m16.173s and set a new circuit record in the process.
Bottas was next across the line and fell just 0.040s short of beating his teammate, but Vettel was within a quarter of a second after the second sector and the more robust soft compound allowed him to take time out of the front two at the end of the lap. Ultimately, the gap was too much to close and Vettel had to settle for third on the grid, 0.132s off Hamilton’s time.
Raikkonen will start fourth in an all-Ferrari second row ahead of the two Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo. It was Ricciardo who was first to head out on softs late in Q3 and he improved with the fastest final sector but ended up just 0.002s adrift of his teammate.
Kevin Magnussen again impressed with seventh place for Haas, but he was 1.5s off Hamilton and 0.9s off Ricciardo as the gap between the top three teams and the rest remains significant. Magnussen will start alongside Fernando Alonso on row four after the pair were separated by 0.045s, with Carlos Sainz ninth and Romain Grosjean tenth.
Q2 was all about strategy for the front-runners as the majority set their fastest times on the soft compound to ensure they start on that tire. Ricciardo nearly needed to use supersofts to progress, but the Red Bull driver was just safe as errors from those behind allowed him to back off out of the final corner and avoid a lap time improvement. Grosjean was one such driver to make a mistake, running through the gravel at Turn 7, but he too was safely through.
Alonso secured McLaren’s first Q3 appearance of the season with a solid last lap to knock out teammate Stoffel Vandoorne by a little over 0.2s, with Pierre Gasly also dropping out in 12th, 0.1s further back from the second McLaren.
The two Force India drivers struggled somewhat with tire performance and were also eliminated in the second part of qualifying, with Sergio Perez specifically finding conditions difficult and dropping out in 15th place as Charles Leclerc got his Sauber between Perez and Esteban Ocon.
Brendon Hartley missed out on qualifying as a result of his heavy crash at the end of FP3, meaning only four other drivers were going to be eliminated in the first part of qualifying. The two Williams drivers looked certainties following practice as both cars had finished bottom of the timing screens in every session, and they were duly slowest of those to set a time in Q1.
Lance Stroll was 19th behind teammate Sergey Sirotkin and attempting to improve at the end of the session when he suffered a strange crash at Turn 12. Exiting the long right-hander, Stroll appeared to be too early on the throttle and ran wide onto the gravel, keeping his foot in and losing control. The car spun and hit the barrier while rolling backward, although any damage appeared to be restricted to the right rear corner of the car.
There was a surprise casualty in Q1 as Nico Hulkenberg failed to progress, with a fuel pressure issue to blame as the German aborted his first run and then dropped out in 16th place ahead of Marcus Ericsson.
“Looks like a fuel pressure issue which affected Nico on both runs,” a Renault spokesperson confirmed. “We’ve not seen this before so we’re stripping the car to check what went wrong.”
– Chris Medland