Azerbaijan Grand Prix 2017: Conclusions from qualifying
Hamilton conquers Baku to near record, Vettel and Ricciardo struggle for different reasons, a new low for McLaren, and...
By Matt Morlidge, James Galloway and Jonathan Green
Last Updated: 25/06/17 5:16pm
Hamilton tames Baku - second time around
"Lewis, what he did today, nobody else I think can do that. He's fantastic. The difference he makes to everybody is only Lewis."
Whatever your view of Lewis Hamilton and where he stands in F1's pantheon, it's hard to argue with Niki Lauda's post-qualifying assessment that the now 66-time polesitter is not the grid's foremost qualifier after he followed up on stunning Saturday performance in Montreal with another in Baku.
Considering Bottas is proven to be no slouch over a single lap himself - he still only trails 3-5 on Saturdays this year - Hamilton's final 0.434-second advantage in the same Mercedes car was particularly impressive. The Baku City Circuit provides one of F1's longest laps, but Hamilton's pole-winning margin was the largest achieved by anyone since last September's Singapore GP, another street track.
The funny thing was that, while the general rule of thumb for city circuits such as Baku, Marina Bay and Monaco is that drivers run as close to the barriers as they dare for ultimate lap time, Hamilton appeared to be plotting a more serene course between the unforgiving walls - without losing any kind of speed edge. "It was neat and tidy, but he was just carrying good speed," said Sky F1's Martin Brundle.
Twelve months on from probably the worst qualifying performance of the triple champion's career, this was surely one of Hamilton's very best as he homes in on becoming F1's most successful ever qualifier.
Merc back to their best
After the misery of Monaco and the comeback in Canada, this was as comprehensive a performance Hamilton and Mercedes could have hoped for - a vintage display from a team and driver in sync.
Hamilton was a mere 1.1 seconds clear of the nearest non-Mercedes in Baku, with Ferrari and particularly Red Bull's practice pace turning out to be a flash in the pan as the world champions eased to a one-two. We've seen this before, right?
"That's how it has been in 2014, 2015 and 2016," noted Brundle in the immediate aftermath of Hamilton's pole. "A dominant performance from Mercedes-Benz."
A raging bull?
"I'm no fan of excuses," was the sigh from championship leader Sebastian Vettel as he qualified fourth, behind team-mate Kimi Raikkonen for just the second time in 2017. But while the most Vettel could have realistically hoped for was a place in the top three behind Hamilton and Bottas, perhaps his persistent Saturday car problems and power unit change could account for his rare qualifying defeat to Raikkonen.
The same, however, can't be said for Daniel Ricciardo.
What's the qualifying score?
|Ferrari||Sebastian Vettel||6-2||Kimi Raikkonen|
|Mercedes||Lewis Hamilton||5-3||Valtteri Bottas|
|Red Bull||Daniel Ricciardo||3-5||Max Verstappen|
|Force India||Sergio Perez||7-1||Esteban Ocon|
|Williams||Felipe Massa||7-1||Lance Stroll|
|Toro Rosso||Carlos Sainz||4-4||Daniil Kvyat|
|Renault||Nico Hulkenberg||7-0||Jolyon Palmer|
|Haas||Romain Grosjean||4-4||Kevin Magnussen|
|Sauber||Marcus Ericsson||1-5||Pascal Wehrlein|
|Sauber||Marcus Ericsson||2-0||Antonio Giovinazzi|
|McLaren||Stoffel Vandoorne||0-7||Fernando Alonso|
|McLaren||Stoffel Vandoorne||0-1||Jenson Button|
It's usually close between the two Red Bulls, but Ricciardo has uncharacteristically been a few tenths off the pace set by Max Verstappen all weekend, despite the Dutchman's reliability woes. This is now the fourth successive grand prix where the teenager has out-qualified his elder team-mate.
What's more, Ricciardo's end-of-Q3 shunt leaves his team with plenty of work to do to get his RB13 ready, and work out the correct strategy from 10th. He's certainly doing the job come race day, but his 2017 one-lap speed has been lacking recently.
McLaren reach a new low
Just when you thought things couldn't get any worse for McLaren-Honda, they hit a new low in Baku as both drivers were eliminated in Q1 for the first time this season.
Not that it has much impact on their overall starting position given Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne were already facing 40 and 35-place grid penalties respectively for a raft of engine component and gearbox changes.
Vandoorne's difficult season continued as he was last of the cars to set a time in qualifying, while both McLarens were slowest through the speed trap, some 15kph down on the best.
It led Alonso to take another shot at the lack of performance in the Honda engine, comically admitting that other drivers are unable to tell when they are on a flying lap
"At the start of the lap they probably get confused because our speed is that slow they think that probably we go to the pit lane or start a slow lap," he told Sky F1 after a near coming together with Ricciardo's Red Bull.
"But no this is our speed, we are starting a timed lap so I think they get surprised a little bit."
Not quite the "race-winning potential" the two-time world champion wants to see if he is to extend his contract with the team...
Progress for Lance
After six races without a Formula 1 point and seven qualifying sessions behind Felipe Massa, Lance Stroll has followed up his 10th-place finish in Canada with a slender 0.045s advantage over his team-mate in his second ever Q3 appearance. Is 2017's only complete F1 rookie gathering momentum?
While his elder rivals have been slipping and sliding throughout the weekend, the teenager has possibly made the fewest mistakes in Baku so far and seems to finally be adjusting to life in F1.
"I gain experience every time I get in the car," Stroll told Sky F1. "Canada was great for my confidence. When you're young in Formula 1 you need to discover what's good for you."
Don't miss the Azerbaijan GP live on Sky Sports F1 on Sunday - lights out for the race is at 2pm. Check out all the ways to watch F1 on Sky Sports for subscribers and non-subscribers - including a NOW TV day pass for £6.99!
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