Azerbaijan GP Qualifying: Sebastian Vettel beats Lewis Hamilton to pole
Vettel seals third pole in a row after out-qualifying Hamilton by 0,179s; Raikkonen misses out after mistake on final lap; Bottas third, Red Bulls behind; McLaren fail to make Q3, Vandoorne out in Q1
By Matt Morlidge
Last Updated: 11/12/18 2:49pm
Sebastian Vettel stormed to what could be a crucial pole position at the Azerbaijan GP and will start Sunday's race on the front row ahead of title rival Lewis Hamilton.
In proof that Ferrari still hold the qualifying advantage over Mercedes, championship leader Vettel's 1:41.498 on his first lap in Q3 was enough to seal his third successive pole in 2018, outpacing Hamilton by a tenth of a second.
But while Hamilton improved on his final flier to close in on Vettel, who locked up on his last effort, Kimi Raikkonen could and should have usurped both in the closing stages.
Vettel's Ferrari team-mate set two fastest sectors before making a mistake at Turn 15 and losing over a second, missing out on what looked like a certain pole and he will instead start sixth.
"Fortunately that was enough," said Vettel, who had a comfortable advantage over the field after the first runs.
"The good point is that our car was really good this afternoon so it should be in a good place tomorrow. Yesterday I struggled a bit with confidence and trust in the car and rhythm but today, when it clicks, it just keeps coming."
But Hamilton, nine points behind Vettel in the standings and without a win this season, was also buoyed by his team's improved Saturday performance and warned: "We are in the mix. I will try to give Sebastian a hard time tomorrow."
Valtteri Bottas was third but 0.339s off Vettel, with Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen just behind for a Red Bull team who once again could not match their rivals' Saturday engine power modes.
In the fourth qualifying session of 2018:
* Five of the top six set their fastest Q2 times on the supersoft tyre and will start what is expected to be a one-stop race on that compound
* Kimi Raikkonen was the exception and will start sixth on the faster but less durable ultrasofts
* Force India got both cars into Q3 for the first time this season, with an improving Williams just missing out
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* But Stoffel Vandoorne was knocked out in Q1 for McLaren, with Fernando Alonso only managing 13th, leading Sky F1's Paul di Resta to declare that the Woking team are in a "crisis"
* Pierre Gasly narrowly avoided a huge collision with Toro Rosso team-mate Brendon Hartley in Q1
* Romain Grosjean suffered a gearbox failure and didn't set a time for Haas
Perfectly poised for Sunday
Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull topped a practice session each in Baku and the qualifying session gave further indication that all three teams have a real chance of victory in Sunday's race, which is live on Sky Sports F1 at 1.10pm.
Ferrari seem to have the one-lap pace and will hope to have Vettel controlling the race from the outset, but Raikkonen's mistake means the German will have two Mercedes in Hamilton and Bottas right on his tail into a tight Turn One.
"The only problem Ferrari have is that they haven't got Raikkonen to control it," said Di Resta. "You feel like they're vulnerable unless they do something different."
And Red Bull are also adamant they are in with a shot for another victory, taking solace from the fact they were less than half a second off the pace in qualifying despite the difference in power.
The in-form Ricciardo, who won a crazy race in 2017 which featured the most overtakes of the season, claimed: "I think we've got a real good race car."
McLaren's woes worsen, near Toro Rosso disaster
While McLaren are fourth in the constructors' standings, that position is masking an awful start to the season when it comes to qualifying.
Not only have they failed to make Q3's final shootout, but in Baku it got even worse as Vandoorne was eliminated in Q1.
"It's not going in a straight line, it's not going around a corner, it's just not happening," admitted Di Resta. "You can see they've made some senior management changes, but it's a kind of crisis I would say."
Alonso could only manage 13th and, while putting on a brave face and defending his team, said once again that the Renault-powered team "need to take a step forward."
There was also a near disaster for Toro Rosso, with Gasly showing cat-like reactions to avoid team-mate Hartley during Q1. The pair collided at the last race in China and very nearly did so again here, with Hartley slowing due to a puncture and Gasly on a hot lap which should have seen him advance to Q2.
In the end, he was lucky to avoid what would have been a scary crash and Hartley accepted blame for the incident.
A gearbox issue for Nico Hulkenberg before qualifying means he will face a five-place grid penalty, while Grosjean could be getting the same punishment after suffering what seemed to be a similar problem before setting a time in Q1.
Force India are on course for their best haul of points of the season with Esteban Ocon seventh and Sergio Perez eighth, while a superb Charles Leclerc qualified in 14th for Sauber. Lance Stroll and Sergey Sirotkin impressed in 11th and 12th for Williams, who also produced their best performance of the season.
Azerbaijan GP Qualifying Timesheet
|1) Sebastian Vettel||Ferrari||1:41.498|
|2) Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes||+ 0.179|
|3) Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes||+ 0.339|
|4) Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull||+ 0.413|
|5) Max Verstappen||Red Bull||+ 0.496|
|6) Kimi Raikkonen||Ferrari||+ 0.992|
|7) Esteban Ocon||Force India||+ 1.025|
|8) Sergio Perez||Force India||+ 1.049|
|9) Nico Hulkenberg||Renault||+ 1.568|
|10) Carlos Sainz||Renault||+ 1.853|
|Out in Q2|
|11) Lance Stroll||Williams||1:43.585|
|12) Sergey Sirotkin||Williams||1:43.886|
|13) Fernando Alonso||McLaren||1:44.019|
|14) Charles Leclerc||Sauber||1:44.074|
|15) Kevin Magnussen||Haas||1:44.759|
|Out in Q1|
|16) Stoffel Vandoorne||McLaren||1:44.489|
|17 ) Pierre Gasly||Toro Rosso||1:44.496|
|18) Marcus Ericsson||Sauber||1:45.541|
|19) Brendon Hartley||Toro Rosso||1:57.354|
|20) Romain Grosjean||Haas||No time set|