Valtteri Bottas outshines Lewis Hamilton to claim Spanish GP pole

• Bottas puts in commanding lap to deny Mercedes teammate
• Sebastian Vettel third but Ferrari found wanting again

Valtteri Bottas emphatically laid waste the optimism Ferrari had brought to the Spanish Grand Prix with a pole position that left the Scuderia floundering in his wake. The Finnish driver’s commanding performance also meant his Mercedes teammate, Lewis Hamilton, who was second, had questions to answer of his own and the defending champion admitted he had to improve if he is to face the challenge Bottas is mounting for the world title.

After a lacklustre 2018, with which he was very disappointed, the Finn is a driver seemingly reborn this season. He leads Hamilton by one point in the championship and this is his third pole in a row. With a time of 1min 15.406sec, he was six-tenths clear of Hamilton and eight-tenths in front of Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari in third.

Asked about his preparation leading up to the weekend, he revealed he had followed Finnish folklore and spent time in the forests of his homeland. “I think there has been research about it that it’s good for your brain,” he said. “Last week I spent a lot of time in the woods. It might sound crazy but it seems to work.”

Indeed communing with nature is paying off as never before. Bottas’s ninth career pole position is his first in Spain and further reinforces the immensely strong start he has made. He has outscored Hamilton over the single lap now by three to one and, of the two in qualifying, appears the more comfortable with the car.

Lewis Hamilton had to settle for second as Mercedes secured a front-row lockout of the grid.
Lewis Hamilton had to settle for second as Mercedes secured a front-row lockout of the grid. Photograph: Albert Gea/Reuters

The pair have two wins apiece and have secured four consecutive one-two finishes for Mercedes. A fifth seems highly likely. “We have been doing a good job as a team with the direction we’ve been taking the car in,” Bottas said. “In terms of where to find the performance and how and so on, so we’ve done a really good job.”

Ferrari, however, are reeling. Hamilton’s deficit to his teammate was down to an untidy lap on the final runs and he would have expected to be much closer. The Scuderia’s concerns cannot be so easily assuaged. Charles Leclerc in the second Ferrari was in fifth behind the Red Bull of Max Verstappen. Ferrari had brought an engine upgrade earlier than planned to this race plus aerodynamic improvements. A major step forward was hoped for but Mercedes brought their own raft of aero upgrades and have further increased their advantage.

Vettel trails Bottas by 35 points, and Ferrari are 74 behind Mercedes. The Scuderia have proved strong on straightline speed but their car’s failing was exposed again at the Circuit de Catalunya.

The Mercedes is superb on turn-in through the slower corners where Ferrari are losing chunks of time. The twisty final sector in Barcelona proved to be costing them dearly. Worse still, those upgrades do not appear to have delivered any major improvements in the areas that they desperately need them.

Asked if he was surprised by the gap, Vettel replied: “Yes, of course. Coming here we did not expect it but we seemed to lose quite a big amount of time in the last sector. Definitely there is some homework to do. We know this track very well but today we were just not able to match them.

“We lose time in the corners, in that last sector pretty much every corner. The car didn’t feel perfect, so that’s something we can improve, but we cannot carry as much speed through the corner as them.”

Hamilton in turn was disappointed. He expected more and would have anticipated being far closer to his teammate. He has been given stern warning that Bottas is increasingly looking like his main rival this season and that the Finn is showing no sign of quietly succumbing to the five-time world champion.

The difference between the two was a scruffy lap by Hamilton when the track conditions were best on their penultimate runs. The British driver failed to find the precision required through the corners of the final sector.

“I think it’s about the whole weekend and it’s the feel that I have in the car,” he said. “I just need to work on it so I don’t think it’s really about my approach in qualifying particularly. But, of course, I’m looking at all solutions and I’ll get there eventually.”

He will expect to improve and will be relentless in his pursuit of doing so just as Mercedes have been in recent years. No other team have taken pole in Spain since 2012. Ferrari’s hopes of breaking that run proved forlorn and their chances in the race look similarly slim. Hamilton will be in no mood to grant any quarter to his teammate, but this new Bottas looks equally determined and it is the Finn who starts with his nose in front in Barcelona.

Red Bull’s Pierre Gasly was in sixth. The Haas cars of Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen were in seventh and eighth, with the Toro Rosso of Daniil Kvyat in ninth.

Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo was in 10th place but will take a three-place grid penalty for causing a collision in Baku. His teammate Nico Hülkenberg hit the wall in Q1 and damaged his front wing and went out in 16th place.

The McLaren’s of Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz were in 11th and 13th. Alexander Albon in the Toro Rosso was in 12th, with Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Räikkönen in 14th and Racing Point’s Sergio Pérez in 15th.

George Russell crashed his Williams in FP3 and had to take a replacement gearbox for which he will receive a five-place grid penalty and will start at the back of the grid. His teammate Robert Kubica was in 20th. Lance Stroll in the Racing Point was in 17th in front of the Sauber of Antonio Giovinazzi.

Contributor

Giles Richards at the Circuit de Catalunya

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