Saturday, 22 September, 2018

Hamilton leads Mercedes front row lockout, Vettel third

Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel during practice After winning the first two races in 2018 Sebastian Vettel finished off the podium in China and Azerbaijan Credit REUTERS
Domingo Copeland | 13 May, 2018, 00:13

Lewis Hamilton believes he is not in a position to fight competitively for the Formula One world championship despite holding a four-point lead over his key rival, Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel.

And while it looked like the updates Mercedes have brought to Barcelona had improved his vehicle, teammate Valtteri Bottas set the pace in the morning session, posting a time nearly a second faster than Hamilton.

Team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne was ninth quickest in second practice and positive about the improved handling of the auto, but said McLaren had to wait until qualifying to know if it had taken a real step forward.

Vettel ended the session third. Raikkonen, who ran wide at Turn 1 on his first attempt and entered his final run provisionally seventh, ensured that Ferrari locked-out the second row by finishing fourth. Red Bull was sat second and third after the initial runs of Q3, but once Ferrari had made its improvements it dropped to the third row. Ricciardo almost needed to use supersofts to progress, but the Red Bull driver was just safe as errors from those behind allowed him to back off out of the final corner and avoid a lap time improvement. Renault managed to turn his vehicle around in time to attempt a final run, but he finished the session 16th - just 0.04s slower than Stoffel Vandoorne.

On a cooler and less windy day, the cars were more stable and lower temperatures enabled greater use of the "super-soft" tyres, but it was the slightly harder "soft" tyres that remained Mercedes' preferred choice.

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Kevin Magnussen was sixth ahead of Romain Grosjean, Carlos Sainz, Fernando Alonso and Pierre Gasly. He did not take part in qualifying and will start from the back of the grid. McLaren put a auto into Q3 for the first time this season with Fernando Alonso in eighth; his team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne went out in 11th. Alonso's late lap dropped Vandoorne into 11th place. Renault and McLaren are behind them on absolute pace but Toro Rosso aren't a million miles away, either.

Brendon Hartley of Toro Rosso did not make it to qualifying because the team was not able to fix his vehicle after a crash in the final minutes of Saturday's practice. The top six all set their quickest Q2 times on the soft tyre, meaning they will all start Sunday's race on that compound.

McLaren has introduced several new parts for the Renault-powered MCL33 at Barcelona, including a striking new nose that has caught attention since it was seen in public for the first time on Thursday.

BBC Sport's Andrew Benson noted some engine concerns for the Scuderia after Raikkonen needed to return to the pits. His time was only good enough for 16th.

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