Hamilton edges out Vettel for COTA pole

20/10/2018
NEWS STORY

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.

The lights go green for Q3, and again the Mercedes duo can't get out quick enough. Soon they are joined by all but Leclerc, everyone on ultras.

As they begin their first flying lap, Hamilton is setting the pace, but the Ferrari, further behind, are even quicker.

Bottas posts 32.686 and Hamilton 32.567, while Raikkonen can only manage 33.024.

Vettel crosses the line at 32.655, 0.088s down on his title rival.

No sooner has Grosjean gone fifth with a 34.731 than he is demoted by Ricciardo (33.494). Hulkenberg is seventh, ahead of the Panthers.

Hamilton is advised that it is in the second sector that the Ferraris lost out.

"We need to have those fans on the brakes, guys," advises Hamilton.

"I'm reasonably happy," declares Vettel as his team adjusts his front wing.

One by one they head out for the final assault, Leclerc and Ricciardo the last to emerge.

Ocon is warned that his tyres are on the hot side.

"There is some rain on the back straight," warns Vettel.

Bottas has a poor opening sector, while Hamilton and Raikkonen go quicker. Vettel goes quickest in the first sector.

Hamilton and the Ferrari pair trade fastest sectors, the Finn goes quickest with a 32.307, but Hamilton responds with a 32.237, Vettel subsequently crossing the line at 32.298 to go second, 0.061s down on the Briton.

Jubilation in the Mercedes garage... "Beautiful work, beautiful work, Hamilton is told.

It's Hamilton on pole, ahead of Vettel, Raikkonen, Bottas, Ricciardo, Ocon, Hulkenberg, Grosjean, Leclerc and Perez.

Sainz is eleventh, ahead of Magnussen, Gasly, Hartley, Verstappen, Alonso, Sirotkin, Stroll, Ericsson and Vandoorne.

Told how much he missed out by, Vettel utters a string of expletives. The German clearly unhappy. Then again, with that penalty it means the difference between starting fourth and fifth.

Of course, with Raikkonen starting on the ultrasofts tomorrow, the Finn could well follow the example of his countryman and play wingman, however, with that 67-point lead this isn't really something that should worry Hamilton.

Then again, watching his determination to take pole, and edging out Vettel by 0.061s, it's clear the Briton does not intend to go gentle at the green lights.

"That was close," admits Hamilton at session end. "These guys have... I didn't know how close it was going to be once we got to qualifying, but once we got to the last run I knew it was quite edgy between us and that it was going to require solid laps.

"The first one was decent, but not good enough, and the second one was just that little better and enabled me to pull that out. You know there have been some races where I've not actually done a better time and I've had to bail out of the second lap, so I was very, very adamant that today I was going to do a better second lap, so I'm very happy with that."

Asked about the rain at the end of the session, and whether he encountered any issues, he replied: "No, the track has been incredible. It started out very, very green and slippery in practice three and then once we got into qualifying it was just rubbering in and it was getting faster and faster every session.

"The wind direction: there is a beautiful headwind going into the Esses. The Esses are just incredible; it's little bit like Maggots and Becketts. And also, there's such a big crowd here. We did a fan signing earlier and I've never seen the fans so hyped before, so it's great, but big thank you to the team and everyone here."

Asked if his Q2 (starting tyres) are OK, having had to do an extra lap, he responds: "We'll see tomorrow. But the Ferraris are obviously really quick so... I just hope for better weather for everyone that's in the grandstands watching and I hope that it's an exciting race tomorrow."

"It was pretty close obviously," adds Vettel. "It's always a bit of a shame when you miss out on just that little time. I think with six hundredths you can always debate you had them somewhere in you. But I was pretty happy with the laps I had. I think it was quite tricky to get everything together.

"Obviously it's been dry today and better for us, but the wind was quite tricky for us but it's the same for everyone. Yeah, pretty happy. I think given the last couple of weeks that we had, pretty happy that we are back in range."

Asked if he feels Ferrari has rediscovered its form, he says: "Yeah, it seems that we are, obviously not in the wet but in the dry it seems that we are better off and I think today has been surprisingly close. I don't think we expected it to be that close, so that's good."

And starting from fifth after that penalty... "I'm used to it, so I know how to do it now."

"A little bit too slow, but I can deal with it," says Raikkonen. "It's been a pretty positive day and for sure I think we got pretty close. It's far from ideal but I feel good with the car.

"We'll try tomorrow; it's going to be a long race, and nobody really knows how the tyre will survive, because of yesterday's rain, so it will be interesting."

And starting on the ultras... "Yeah, not much to lose, so we'll try to make a good start and go from there and see what we can do. I think it should be OK."

Check out our Saturday gallery from COTA, here.

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Published: 20/10/2018
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