Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton will start the first race of the 2017 season on pole, with a blistering time of 1:22.188. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel will join him on the front row, with Ferrari’s first front-row start since Singapore 2015. On the second row sits Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas, alongside Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen.
Q1 began with a 40% chance of rain, however no rain came.
Early in the session, McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne had to return to the pits due to a fuel flow issue, a problem which is difficult to fix quickly, and it was particularly important it was fixed quickly, as Vandoorne had not yet set a time. He later finished to qualify 18th, five places behind teammate Fernando Alonso.
Renault’s Jolyon Palmer was late getting out, and finally emerged from the pits with only five minutes to go, however it was a poor session for the Brit, as he qualified with the slowest time, however will start second to last, due to Williams’ Lance Stroll’s grid penalty for a new gearbox.
Antonio Giovinazzi was racing in this session instead of Sauber’s Pascal Wehrlein, as the German did not feel fit to race tomorrow due to injuries sustained during the Race of Champions.
With the track temperature dropping, cars were beginning to struggle for grip as Q2 commenced.
Bottas initially went out and set the fastest time, with Hamilton a mere 0.036s behind.
Haas’ Romain Grosjean also reported that he had been blocked by Sauber and Red Bull on track, however these complaints were not looked into.
Alonso unexpectedly returned to the pits fairly early into the session, with reports of “no power” after coming off the curb and going back on the power. However, the Spaniard was out again, and eventually qualified 13th.
There were also complaints from Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who believed his lap was compromised being behind teammate Daniel Ricciardo, who has a different warm-up technique to the Dutchman.
Unusually, Vettel put his brakes on just before the end of his final Q2 lap, turning his DRS off, which suggests either he did not want to show Ferrari’s true pace, or he did not feel comfortable with the balance of the car.
Right at the start of Q3, there were warnings of rain, with Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen reporting rain, however no rain came.
Near the beginning of the session, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo spun into the gravel and hit the barriers with the rear of his car. This red flagged the session for a couple of minutes as the car was removed.
It appeared that he had turned in, and the car would not stick to the track in the way he hoped. His left-rear tyre was also wide on the corner before, so perhaps this tyre attracted some dirt.
This was an indication of how much of a knife edge the Red Bull setup is, and how unforgiving the new cars are.
The end of the session was tense, with Bottas, Vettel and Hamilton competing for poll, with eventually Hamilton winning out, and securing the first pole of the season.