Hamilton edges out Verstappen in Spain to claim 100th pole

Lewis Hamilton became the first driver to make it to 100 pole positions, narrowly triumphing over the Red Bull of Max Verstappen by just 0.036s in qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix, as his Mercedes team mate Valtteri Bottas claimed P3.

Hamilton set a blistering 1:16.741 on his first lap in Q3, with Verstappen narrowly behind. But with all eyes trained on the fight at the front in the final minutes of qualifying, neither Hamilton, Verstappen nor Bottas could improve on their second runs, meaning Hamilton claimed his record-extending 100th pole position – with the Mercedes driver yelling exuberantly on team radio after a phenomenal milestone in the history of Formula 1 was reached.

It wasn’t all bad for Verstappen, however, who after showing strong pace in Q2 to lead the segment, claimed his first ever front row start at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, ahead of Bottas.

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc confirmed the Scuderia’s turn of speed this weekend with P4, as Alpine’s Esteban Ocon continued the team’s form from Portimao with fifth. Home hero Carlos Sainz was sixth in the second Ferrari, ahead of McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo, who had just one lap in Q3 but managed to get ahead of his ninth placed team mate Lando Norris – who’d led the way in Q1.

The second Red Bull of Sergio Perez could only manage P8 after a difficult weekend so far for the Mexican, with the second home driver Fernando Alonso in P10.

So that was the top 10 – but all the accolades today are for Lewis Hamilton, the first driver to make it triple figures in pole positions in F1 history.

Q1

Following a 10-minute delay to the start of the session as a Tecpro barrier was put back in place after a support race crash, the drivers headed out onto a hot Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, with track temperatures up in the mid-40s – and air temperatures in the mid-20s.

Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz made strides forward in an improving Ferrari.

Yuki Tsunoda would be the shock casualty from the first segment, the Japanese driver running wide on his final flying effort going through Turn 9 and crossing the line a mere 0.735s off the fastest Q1 lap – but with that enough to see him out of the segment for the second time in his four F1 race weekends. “I can’t ******g believe this car,” he screamed frustratedly over the radio.

Tsunoda in 16th was joined in the drop zone by the Alfa Romeo of Kimi Raikkonen, the Haas of Mick Schumacher, Williams’ Nicholas Latifi (who smashed his left-hand mirror after going over the bumps at Turn 9) and the second Haas of Nikita Mazepin – Haas outqualifying another team on pure pace for the first time in 2021.

Up at the front, though, and having encountered a traffic jam at the Turn 13-14-15 complex on his first push lap, McLaren’s Lando Norris was the shock fastest runner in Q1 after his second effort, setting a 1m 17.821s to pip Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas, who was 0.184s slower in P2 on medium tyres.

Charles Leclerc again demonstrated the pace of Ferrari this weekend by going P3, narrowly ahead of Red Bull’s Verstappen, as the second AlphaTauri of Pierre Gasly showed that there was pace in the AT02 by going P5, 0.369s adrift.

Knocked out: Tsunoda, Raikkonen, Schumacher, Latifi, Mazepin

Q2

George Russell and Antonio Giovinazzi had never made it into Q2 at Barcelona before this year. But although both would make it to the second segment of qualifying in 2021, Q2 was as far as either driver would go, Williams having opted to burn up all of Russell’s soft tyres in Q1 to help him reach Q2.

Over at Aston Martin, meanwhile, the time sheets made for unhappy reading in Q2. With both cars using the team’s new update this race, neither driver could progress into Q3, Lance Stroll going 11th fastest and missing out by just 0.008, as Sebastian Vettel took P13 – while last year as Racing Point, the team had taken fourth and fifth on the grid.

Gasly continued AlphaTauri’s unfortunate day, taking P12 and failing to make it to Q3 for the first time in seven races, as Giovinazzi and Russell took 14th and 15th.

Neither Aston Martin managed to reach Q3.

At the head of the field, and having bided his time in Q1, Verstappen flashed the speed of his RB16B in Q2, becoming the first driver into the 1:16s this weekend with a 1:6.922, two-tenths ahead of Bottas and Hamilton as Sainz took P4 – while having been sitting in P12 after the first runs, Sergio Perez was up to P5 on his second run to join his team mate in the final qualifying shoot-out.

All the runners who made it through to Q3 did so on soft tyres, meanwhile, meaning the top 10 will all start on the red-walled tyres on race day.

Knocked out: Stroll, Gasly, Vettel, Giovinazzi, Russell

Q3

Mercedes were on the back foot heading into Q3, with Verstappen having been comfortably ahead in Q2 but Hamilton was not out of contention.

He duly set the pace on his first lap with a 1:16.741, with Verstappen just 0.036 off that time in P2, with Bottas a further tenth adrift in third.

With the seconds counting down in Q3, the drivers headed out for their final laps. Hamilton was up in his first sector, but couldn’t improve in sectors 2 and 3, failing to trump his best effort.

Sergio Perez spins on his first lap in Q3.

Verstappen and Bottas looked like the drivers most likely to dethrone Hamilton but ultimately they too would fall short on their own second laps, as Hamilton claimed a record-stretching 100th pole position.

Charles Leclerc did improve, however, jumping from P7 to P4 to push Alpine’s Esteban Ocon down to P5 as Sainz claimed sixth on home turf.

The Spanish fans actually had two drivers to cheer on in the top 10, Alonso taking 10th, with Ricciardo, Perez and Norris in between in P7, P8 and P9 – an under-the-weather Perez likely to have been disappointed especially, given that he was a full 0.924 off his team mate Verstappen, having spun violently at Turn 13 on his first flying lap.

But after all that, the plaudits went to Hamilton on a historic day, as he became F1’s first ever pole position centurion.

The 2021 Spanish Grand Prix kicks off at 15:00 local time, which is 14:00 GMT. Lewis Hamilton has won the last four races at Barcelona, and five races here in total – can anyone end his reign this weekend?

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