Hamilton on Tuscan Grand Prix pole, Mercedes lock-out front row
Lewis Hamilton claimed a record-increasing 95th pole position on Saturday when he outpaced Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas to seize the prime grid position in qualifying for Sunday’s inaugural Tuscan Grand Prix.
It was the series leader and six-time champion’s seventh pole in eight races this year as Mercedes continued their dominant run to nine poles out of nine this season with an eighth consecutive front row lockout.
Bottas had been fastest in all three practice sessions, but he was unable to maintain his superiority over the Briton in the decisive hour albeit that his second run was affected by yellow flags after Esteban Ocon spun in his Renault.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was third ahead of his team-mate Alex Albon with Charles Leclerc claiming fifth for Ferrari, as they celebrate their 1000th Grand Prix at their own circuit.
Sergio Perez, who faces a one-place grid penalty for his brush with Kimi Raikkonen on Friday, qualified sixth ahead of his Racing Point team-mate Lance Stroll, Daniel Ricciardo of Renault, Carlos Sainz of McLaren and Ocon.
“It’s been a very tough weekend,” said Hamilton.
“And I’m very grateful to my team because it has been so close with Valtteri and Max, but what a circuit this is!”
Bottas said he felt certain he would have improved his time on his second final run, but for the flags. “I definitely had more,” he said. “I know I could have done better.”
Leclerc said he was surprised and delighted. “I am just very happy,” he said.
– Ferrari escape embarrassment –
On a glorious day in the Tuscan hills, the air temperature was 29 degrees Celsius and the track 46 as Q1 began with Bottas topping Hamilton by almost three-tenths, leaving Verstappen adrift by half a second in third.
Perez was fifth behind Albon with Leclerc in sixth while, in the drop zone, Vettel scrambled through to Q2 in his Ferrari to dump last Sunday’s Monza winner Pierre Gasly into 16th.
That meant the Frenchman was eliminated along with Antonio Giovinazzi of Alfa Romeo, the two Williams of George Russell and Nicholas Latifi and Haas’s Kevin Magnussen.
At their celebratory weekend, Ferrari had escaped utter embarrassment, but a team radio exchange was a salutary reminder of their current plight.
“Did we go through or not?” asked Vettel, an unexpected question from a works Ferrari driver, let alone a four-time champion.
“Yep, we did,” Ferrari replied. “Oh…” said Vettel, desperate to find his form ahead of switching next year to Aston Martin.
In Q2, Hamilton was out quickly to set the pace in 1:15.309, beating Bottas, by 0.013, for the first time this weekend with Verstappen slotting into third, 0.17 off the Briton. Albon took fourth after the first runs.
In the second flurry, the top five stayed in their garages as Sainz squeezed his McLaren team-mate Lando Norris out of the top ten for the first time this season.
“Lando, sorry, we’re P11,” McLaren told the young Briton.
“Ok, no worries. We’ll try again tomorrow – that’s when it matters,” he replied.
Out with Norris went Daniil Kvyat of Alpha Tauri, Kimi Raikkonen of Alfa Romeo, Vettel and Romain Grosjean of Haas.
The top ten all went through on softs, meaning they will start Sunday’s race on that compound while Norris and Kvyat have a choice.
The top ten ‘shootout’ began with Hamilton ahead again, clocking 1:15.144 to beat Bottas by 0.059 and Verstappen, third, by four-tenths. Albon stayed fourth.
On the second runs, Hamilton was unable to improve, before the session was upset when Ocon spun and stopped, prompting yellow flags to slow the action before the flag fell.
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