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Hamilton edges out Vettel for COTA pole

NEWS STORY
20/10/2018

Sebastian Vettel topped the timesheets in this morning's final practice session. However, whether this signified an eleventh-hour revival or was merely intended to tease us remains to be seen.

Then again, with a three-place grid drop following yesterday's misdemeanour he really does need to pull out all the stops this afternoon.

Teammate Kimi Raikkonen was second quickest, just 0.046s behind, however, just 0.073s off the pace was Lewis Hamilton.

In all honesty, it would be good to see the Briton wrap up the championship this weekend, in order that we get it out of the way, and have the final three races all about straight fighting between the top three teams.

Charles Leclerc was best of the rest earlier, once again the midfield battle looking likely to be where the real action is. With seventh to fourteenth covered half-a-second we should see some action both in Q2 this afternoon and tomorrow.

Of course, Hamilton doesn't have to win the race this weekend, but like so many of our sport's previous champions he simply doesn't know - or want - to play the numbers game and settle, he will be going all-out to win his fifth title with style.

In its efforts to turn things around, Ferrari brought a new floor here, but yesterday's weather, which meant the Maranello outfit was unable to properly evaluate it, means it has been put aside for another day.

Ahead of FP3, Charlie Whiting issues a directive warning drivers not to exceed the track limits... or else, yet despite his warning, and the various deterrents placed around the track, drivers continue to take advantage. Whiting's message was clear however, err and you'll be punished.

The lack of dry running up until today means that even in the moments before the start of Q1 the work in the various garages is frantic.

Ahead of Q1, the air temperature is 19.1 degrees C, while the track temperature is 21.1 degrees. There is a 20% chance of rain.

As if by magic, cars that just moments ago were up on their stands, covered in anxious engineers are suddenly ready to roll... such is the magic of F1.

The lights go green and first out are the Toro Rossos, who will start from the back tomorrow following an engine change.

The Ferrari pair are among the early risers, possibly with an eye on some very dark clouds which appear to be closing in. All are on ultras thus far.

Hartley posts the first time of the afternoon, the kiwi crossing the line at 36.943. Gasly subsequently posts 36.457. However, he exceeded the track limits at T19.

Raikkonen posts a respectable 34.938, but Vettel subsequently posts 34.569.

Gasly's time is disallowed following his excursion.

Leclerc goes third (35.944), ahead of Sirotkin, Ericsson and Hartley as Hamilton is warned about Gasly's punishment.

As Raikkonen looks set to improve, Verstappen is on a hot lap, pushing to the limits but not beyond.

A poor final sector means Raikkonen doesn't improve, while Verstappen posts 34.766 to go third.

As Hamilton goes quickest in the first two sectors, Bottas posts 34.518 to go top. Moments later Hamilton posts 34.176.

Sirotkin calls on Williams to check his tyre blankets, fearing his rears are "cold".

Ricciardo goes sixth with a 34.957 as Sainz goes 'best of the rest', ahead of Perez, Hulkenberg and Ocon.

As Hamilton is advised that the Ferraris were faster on their third laps, Grosjean goes sixth with a 34.892 and Verstappen looks set to improve. However, the Red Bull driver has damaged his right-rear suspension. Somehow he makes it back to the pits, but his session looks to be over.

Replay shows the damage appearing to be caused by the youngster running over the sausage kerbs.

Meanwhile, Gasly has gone an impressive 9th.

With less than three minutes remaining, the Williams, McLarens and Ericsson comprise the drop zone, with Hartley, Leclerc and Ocon hovering.

Hamilton improves, the Briton posting 34.130, after being appraised of Verstappen's issue.

While the top six have settled for their times, the remainder are on track looking to improve.

Ocon improves to seventh, while Alonso goes thirteenth. Hulkenberg goes ninth, ahead of Magnussen and Leclerc.

Another improvement sees Gasly go seventh, which dumps Alonso into the drop zone.

Quickest is Hamilton, ahead of Bottas, Vettel, Raikkonen, Ricciardo, Verstappen, Gasly, Ocon, Sainz and Grosjean.

We lose Alonso, Sirotkin, Stroll, Ericsson and Vandoorne.

The Mercedes pair are first out for Q2, joined by Raikkonen and Hulkenberg. Vettel heads out also, the German, like the Mercedes pair, on supers, while Raikkonen is on ultras.

As Red Bull confirms that Verstappen's day is done, Ricciardo heads out on supers.

Bottas gets things underway with a 33.702, while Hamilton, who made a mistake at T1 can only manage 34.077.

On the ultras Raikkonen posts 32.884, while Vettel goes second - on the supers - with a 33.079, just 0.195s off the pace.

Ricciardo goes fifth, ahead of Leclerc, Ocon, Hulkenberg and Sainz.

While the leading three all pit, Hamilton stays out. The Briton told he is "too close to the cut-off".

The Toro Rosso duo look as if they will not be running again, both already destined to start from the back.

Hamilton improves to 33.480 to go third, albeit 0.596s off Raikkonen's pace.

Grosjean posts 34.467 to go seventh, while Magnussen can only manage twelfth (34.732). That said, Leclerc, currently sixth, is only half-a-second quicker than the Dane.

Nonetheless, the Haas driver is currently in the drop zone with the Toro Rossos and Verstappen.

Surprisingly, with 3:40 remaining, Hartley heads out, followed by Ocon and then Gasly.

While Raikkonen settles for his time, Vettel and the Mercedes pair head out. All on the ultras.

Ricciardo also remains in his garage, though that could be a precautionary move following Verstappen's issue.

As the Toro Rossos head through the pitlane it is clear they are merely data-gathering and not intending to set a time.

Vettel and Hamilton post PBs in S1, but will they complete the laps?

Magnussen fails to improve and thereby misses the cut.

Vettel goes quickest in S2 but slows in S3, the Mercedes pair following suit.

A late improvement for Hulkenberg is bad news for his teammate who misses the cut.

Quickest is Raikkonen, ahead of Vettel, Hamilton, Bottas, Ricciardo, Leclerc, Grosjean, Ocon, Perez and Hulkenberg.

We lose Sainz, Magnussen, Gasly, Hartley and, of course, Verstappen.

Check out our Saturday gallery from COTA, here.

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