Lewis Hamilton won the Mercedes duel from Valtteri Bottas in qualifying to record his 66th career pole at the Baku Street Circuit.
This latest achievement in Formula 1 means Hamilton is just two poles away in equalling Michael Schumacher’s record of 68. The form that Hamilton is on, the triple champion can surpass this and record more.
Hamilton was the only driver to lap under one minute, 42 seconds in Q1 and was comfortably fastest with a single run in Q2 as well.
He let Bottas get briefly ahead during the initial runs in Q3, after locking up and running wide at Turn 16 near the end of his quickest lap, before Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull hit the wall at the Turn 6 right-hander, bringing out the red flags and spoiling a potentially faster lap for Hamilton.
That incident turned the session into a one flying lap dash once the Red Bull was cleared, and Hamilton pulled out an awesome effort on his final run to claim pole by almost half a second from Bottas.
Both Ferraris struggled in qualifying, with Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel taking to the escape road at Turn 3 during their first runs.
Raikkonen recovered best to claim third on the grid, but over six tenths of a second down on the Mercedes of fellow Finn Bottas.
Vettel was fourth in the sister Ferrari, fractionally ahead of the surviving Red Bull of Max Verstappen.
Sergio Perez pipped Force India team-mate Esteban Ocon by less than a tenth of a second to complete the top six, while Lance Stroll narrowly outqualified Williams team-mate Felipe Massa for the first time to claim a career-best eighth on the grid.
Ricciardo ended up slowest in Q3 following his crash.
The pace of the top five teams ensured there wasn’t much of a fight to make it through to Q3.
The Toro Rossos of Daniil Kvyat and Carlos Sainz weren’t fast enough to challenge the Williams and Force Indias, but were comfortably quick enough to outpace Kevin Magnussen’s Haas (even with the benefit of an aerodynamic tow from Sainz), Nico Hulkenberg’s Renault – which lost power after only one run in Q2 – and Pascal Wehrlein’s Sauber, which the Mercedes junior driver heroically dragged into the top 15.
A last-ditch effort from Magnussen ensured a Haas made it through to Q2 at the expense of Fernando Alonso’s McLaren-Honda, which ended up P16, fitted with a ‘spec 2’ engine, and just 0.017 seconds shy of beating Wehrlein’s Sauber into Q2.
Alonso is set to drop to the rear of the grid thanks to his 40-place grid penalty for various engine component changes, which will promote Romain Grosjean’s Haas and the Sauber of Marcus Ericsson.
Stoffel Vandoorne was slowest of those that ran in qualifying, 0.235 seconds adrift of Ericsson, and will also cop a hefty grid penalty – including five places for an unscheduled gearbox change after final practice.
Jolyon Palmer was classified last in qualifying, without a lap time. He sat out the session after a high-pressure fuel leak caused his Renault to cook itself during the early stages of practice three.
The speed advantage from Mercedes was highly impressive in qualifying. The long, home straight really showcase the power and to be over a second clear from rival Ferrari underlines the dominance of this hybrid era of Formula 1.
The Azerbaijan Grand Prix is going to be fascinating on Sunday. Can Hamilton reduce the points gap to Sebastian Vettel? What can Valterri Bottas do? Is he able to challenge for victory? Bring on the race.
Qualifying positions, Baku:
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m40.593s
2 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1m41.027s
3 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m41.693s
4 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1m41.841s
5 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Renault 1m41.879s
6 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 1m42.111s
7 Esteban Ocon Force India-Mercedes 1m42.186s
8 Lance Stroll Williams-Mercedes 1m42.753s
9 Felipe Massa Williams-Mercedes 1m42.798s
10 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull-Renault 1m43.414s
11 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso-Renault 1m43.186s
12 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 1m43.796s
13 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1m44.267s
14 Pascal Wehrlein Sauber-Ferrari 1m44.603s
15 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso-Renault 1m43.347s
16 Romain Grosjean Haas-Ferrari 1m44.468s
17 Marcus Ericsson Sauber-Ferrari 1m44.795s
18 Fernando Alonso McLaren-Honda 1m44.334s*
19 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren-Honda 1m45.030s*
20 Jolyon Palmer Renault –
*Grid penalties for power unit change