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Hamilton takes fourth pole of 2015

NEWS STORY
18/04/2015

Following that slip in China, the pendulum that is Ferrari's fortune appears to be swinging in the Maranello outfit's favour again this weekend.

This morning Sebastian Vettel was just 0.069s off Lewis Hamilton's pace, with Nico Rosberg and Kimi Raikkonen both within spitting distance.

The fact that the official timing system had the German on prime rubber at the time added extra excitement, alas, once again the official timing system was incorrect.

Nonetheless, the Ferrari, as in Malaysia, has strong pace here, indeed, on longer runs it might even have the edge.

The Williams duo is also looking strong, whilst Red Bull, courtesy of a number of various issues, not least a mistake by Daniil Kvyat, and the need to limit engine usage, remains a mystery.

Indeed, whilst Mercedes and Ferrari are the pace-setters, with Williams a strong third, the midfield is extremely tight, though Toro Rosso has been MIA for much of the weekend.

After a torrid day yesterday, things were a little better for Jenson Button this morning, instead it was teammate Fernando Alonso who appeared to be hurting.

As was the case yesterday, due to the timing of the sessions, it was hard to gain much insight from the earlier one, this afternoon's session taking place at the same time of day as the race (18:00) should give us a much better idea of pace.

As was the case yesterday, there were offs and lock-ups aplenty this morning, Daniil Kvyat bringing out the red flags when be beached the Red Bull in a gravel trap. Another factor, particularly this morning, was the wind, which apart from everything has blown sand on to the track.

The difference between the medium and softs has been as much as 3s this weekend, so it is likely we'll be seeing even some of the big guns resort to the softer rubber in Q1.

Air temperature is currently 25 degrees C, and the track temperature 31 degrees. The sun is setting and the circuit is bathed in artificial light.

The lights go green and bang on cue Raikkonen heads down the pitlane.

As the Finn begins his flying lap he is joined on track by countryman Bottas and Rosberg.

A spectacular shower of sparks heading into T1 is followed by a massive lock-up by Raikkonen, his lap ruined before it had truly begun. Hamilton is warned that it looks calm but there are still some "big gusts".

Raikkonen posts 36.731 having messed up in the first corner. "I have a lot of vibration, so I'll box this lap," says the Finn.

Bottas posts 36.268 as Hulkenberg, Nasr, Perez and the Manor duo venture out of options.

Rosberg goes quickest (35.657) and Hamilton second (35.957) as Massa goes third, ahead of Raikkonen and Verstappen.

Both McLaren drivers also on the option rubber. That said, Button has stopped shortly after leaving the pits (T3), his session is over. In the McLaren garage Ron Dennis' frustration is obvious.

As his car is pushed to safety, Button cuts a sad figure as he walks away from the stricken MP4-30.

Hulkenberg (on softs) goes second and Perez third, thereby dropping Hamilton to fifth and almost surely ensuring that the big guns will need to run again on the softer rubber.

Alonso posts 36.471 to go ninth, as Vettel finally leaves the pits, his Ferrari sporting asset of options. Both Mercedes drivers are also on the option rubber.

At the first split Vettel is already 0.003s up on Rosberg, and by the end of S2 he's 0.67s to the good. He crosses the line at 34.919 to go quickest, 0.738s up on the leading Mercedes.

Raikkonen is now also on a hot lap, the Finn posting 34.568. However, he is almost immediately demoted to third as Rosberg (34.398) and then Hamilton (33.928) go quicker.

With1:15 remaining, all but Vettel are on track, all on options. Maldonado and Verstappen both in the danger zone.

"I've got traffic," screams Masa. "Never mind, finish the lap," he is told. Traffic or not, he goes fourth.

A late charge sees Ricciardo go go fifth but he loses out when Bottas posts 34.161 to go second.

Sainz improves to 11th, and therefore makes it to Q2 as Maldonado leapfrogs Kvyat but is then demoted back into the drop zone when Verstappen posts 35.611 to go 14th.

"Sorry, but we had the engine problem again," Maldonado is told.

Hamilton is quickest, ahead of Bottas, Rosberg, Massa, Raikkonen, Ricciardo, Vettel, Grosjean, Alonso and Nasr.

We lose Maldonado, Kvyat, Stevens, Merhi and Button.

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