Written by Ryan Evans (@revs_pafc)
Lewis Hamilton set a new track record to take the first pole position of the season, but not before his teammate Valtteri Bottas pushed him all the way.
The Finn, who vowed to come back fighting this season after finishing only fifth in the Drivers’ Championship last year, had taken provisional pole with a half second lead after the first lap in Q3, but had no answer to a sensational 1:20.4 from the reigning World Champion.
Meanwhile, Ferrari, who many thought would be at the head of the pack after an impressive pre-season, looked off the pace from the Silver Arrows, with Sebastian Vettel qualifying in third place, seven tenths off the top spot.
That gap between F1’s big boys is the same as it was here last year, where Ferrari would have had a title-contending car if it wasn’t for mistakes.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen put in a last minute charge to start on the second row in fourth place, whilst Charles Leclerc, who finished top in Q2, will start fifth.
Elsewhere, rookie Lando Norris will start his first ever Grand Prix from eight position after getting his McLaren into Q3 – a great result for the team considering his teammate Carlos Sainz will start from 18th.
But it was a mixed session for Red Bull, who, with new engine partners Honda, were hoping to be a lot closer to the top. Verstappen’s fourth place start will be pleasing, but there was disappointment for his teammate Pierre Gasly, who misjudged the time needed to escape from Q1 and will start all the way back in 17th position.
— Red Bull Racing (@redbullracing) March 16, 2019
MERCEDES TAKE THEIR SANDBAGS OUT
All the talk in the build-up to Saturday’s qualifying session was that Ferrari were hiding their true pace. All of the team acknowledged that they were the ones to beat following pre-season testing in Barcelona. However, during yesterday’s free practice sessions, they were some way off the Mercedes duo, and that trend continued into Saturday’s qualifying session.
It will be music to the ears of Hamilton, who will be going for his sixth World Championship this season. The Brit was expecting stiff competition from his Ferrari counterparts, but the Scuderia will be hoping for a similar result to last year, when they were able to capitalise on a Mercedes mistake to take the victory in Albert Park.
Elsewhere, there was a disappointing session for Renault. The French outfit, expected to be ‘best of the rest’ after testing, couldn’t manage to get into Q3. Home favourite Daniel Ricciardo will start 12th, seven places behind where he qualified last year with Red Bull, and his team mate Nico Hulkenberg will start 11th.
The two Haas’ managed to qualify sixth and seventh, whilst Kimi Raikkonen out-qualified his rookie teammate Antonio Giovinazzi in his first race for Alfa Romeo.
British-born Alexander Albon out-qualified his teammate Daniil Kvyat in the Toro Rosso, whilst it was unfortunately not a great session for the Williams’ drivers, who finished 19th and 20th.
The fourth and final rookie, George Russell, did manage to out-qualify the returning Robert Kubica, but was some way off even the cars ahead of him.
Qualifying results – provisional grid
- Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:20.486
- Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) +0.112s
- Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) +0.704s
- Max Verstappen (Red Bull) +0.834s
- Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) +0.956s
- Romain Grosjean (Haas) +1.340s
- Kevin Magnussen (Haas) +1.613s
- Lando Norris (McLaren) +1.818s
- Kimi Raikkonen (Alfa Romeo) +1.828s
- Sergio Perez (Racing Point) +2.295s
- Nico Hulkenberg (Renault) 1:22.562
- Daniel Ricciardo (Renault) +0.008s
- Alexander Albon (Toro Rosso) +0.074s
- Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo) +0.152s
- Daniil Kvyat (Toro Rosso) +0.212s
- Lance Stroll (Racing Point) 1:23.017
- Pierre Gasly (Red Bull) +0.003s
- Carlos Sainz (McLaren) +0.067s
- George Russell (Williams) +1.343s
- Robert Kubica (Williams) +3.050s