Sebastian Vettel stormed to what could be a crucial pole position at the Azerbaijan GP and will start Sunday’s race on the front row ahead of title rival Lewis Hamilton.
In proof that Ferrari still hold the qualifying advantage over Mercedes, championship leader Vettel’s 1:41.498 on his first lap in Q3 was enough to seal his third successive pole in 2018, outpacing Hamilton by a tenth of a second.
But while Hamilton improved on his final flier to close in on Vettel, who locked up on his last effort, Kimi Raikkonen could and should have usurped both in the closing stages.
Vettel’s Ferrari team-mate set two fastest sectors before making a mistake at Turn 15 and losing over a second, missing out on what looked like a certain pole and he will instead start sixth.
“Fortunately that was enough,” said Vettel, who had a comfortable advantage over the field after the first runs.
“The good point is that our car was really good this afternoon so it should be in a good place tomorrow. Yesterday I struggled a bit with confidence and trust in the car and rhythm but today, when it clicks, it just keeps coming.”
But Hamilton, nine points behind Vettel in the standings and without a win this season, was also buoyed by his team’s improved Saturday performance and warned: “We are in the mix. I will try to give Sebastian a hard time tomorrow.”
Valtteri Bottas was third but 0.339s off Vettel, with Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen just behind for a Red Bull team who once again could not match their rivals’ Saturday engine power modes.