Lewis Hamilton powered to top spot in qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix, taking his first pole position since the season-opening Australian Grand Prix ahead of team-mate Valtteri Bottas and the Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen.
In Q1, after the early pace was set by Kimi Räikkönen, Vettel then raised the bar considerably with a lap of 1:17.031 that put him four tenths of a second ahead of the Finn, with Hamilton third. Red Bulls drivers then disrupted things with Daniel Ricciardo jumping ahead of Hamilton and Max Verstappen recovering from an FP3 electrical problem to vault to P2 with a time of 1:17.411.
In the drop zone as the final runs began were Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson, William’s Lance Stroll and Sergey Sirotkin, as well as Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg and Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley.
After crashing heavily in FP3 Hartley and causing extensive damage to the rear of his Toro Rosso, Hartley was never going to figure in the session, but Hulkenberg, who had qualified in seventh place three times this season, was an unlikely candidate for the drop.
The German suffered with a fuel pressure issue early in the session but Renault managed to get their driver out for the final runs. His lap, though, was not stellar and in P14 after his run he was still in danger.
And the danger in the end came from McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne whose final lap was good enough to push Hulkenberg out of the session in P16. Eliminated behind the German were Ericsson and Sirotkin. Out, too, went Stroll whose session was ended both by poor performance and by a crash at the very end of the session. The Canadian lost control in Turn 13 and slid off into the gravel trap and out of the session ahead of Hartley.
In Q2 the frontrunners went out on soft tyres at the start of the session and Hamilton laid down what looked like a solid marker with a lap of 1:17.166. That was swiftly eclipsed by team-mate Bottas and then demolished by Vettel, who became the first man under 1m17s with a lap of 1:16.802. The lap put him 0.269 clear of team-mate Räikkönen.
Behind Mercedes and Ferrari, Verstappen looked secure in fifth but Ricciardo had not put in the perfect lap and as the final runs began Red Bull chose to send out again, on supersofts, as they did with Verstappen and as Mercedes did with Hamilton.
In the end, though, Ricciardo’s passage to Q3 was never in doubt as rivals behind failed to find the time necessary to dislodge him and the Australian was eventually told to back of in third sector to preserve his soft tyre lap as his quickest of the session. Thus, like the Ferraris and Mercedes and Verstappen, he will start on the soft tyres.
Out, though, went Vandoorne in 11th place with the Belgian finishing ahead of Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly, Force India’s Esteban Ocon, Sauber’s Charles Leclerc and the second Force India of Sergio Pérez.
In the first runs of Q3, it was Hamilton who set the pace with a time of 1:16.491, but while it might have been expected that Vettel would respond, the German’s opening time of the final segment was not good and his lap of 1:17.255, slower than his Q1 time, left him fifth.
Red Bull, meanwhile, found more pace and Verstappen set a time of 1:18.816 to sit just over three tenths behind Hamilton. Ricciardo took third with a time of 1:16.818 ahead of Bottas and Vettel.
An in the final runs Hamilton converted his advantage, setting blistering pace to claim his 74thcareer pole position and his first since the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.
Bottas joined his team-mate on the front row, just four hundredths of a second behind his team-mate and Vettel, who made a significant improvement to 1:16.305 finished third ahead of team-mate Räikkönen who used soft tyres to climb from P8 after the first run to P4.
The third row was annexed by Red Bull with Verstappen taking fifth with time of 1:16.816. Like Räikkönen, team-mate Ricciardo gambled that the soft tyre might provide more lap time but in the end he only improved by four hundredths of a second to finish just 0.002 behind his team-mate.
Kevin Magnussen was seventh for Haas, while Fernando Alonso took Renault powered McLaren ahead of Renault works driver Carlos Sainz. Tenth place was taken by Romain Grosjean in the second Haas.
2018 Spanish Grand Prix – Qualifying
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:16.173
2 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:16.213 0.040
3 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:16.305 0.132
4 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1:16.612 0.439
5 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing 1:16.816 0.643
6 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing 1:16.818 0.645
7 Kevin Magnussen Haas Ferrari 1:17.676 1.503
8 Fernando Alonso McLaren 1:17.721 1.548
9 Carlos Sainz Renault 1:17.790 1.617
10 Romain Grosjean Haas 1:17.835 1.662
11 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren 1:18.323 2.150
12 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso 1:18.463 2.290
13 Esteban Ocon Force India 1:18.696 2.523
14 Charles Leclerc Sauber 1:18.910 2.737
15 Sergio Perez Force India 1:19.098 2.925
16 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1:18.923 2.750
17 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1:19.493 3.320
18 Sergey Sirotkin Williams 1:19.695 3.522
19 Lance Stroll Williams 1:20.225 4.052
20 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso Honda