2014 Spanish GP Qualifying: Lewis Hamilton does it again to claim pole position
Mercedes a class apart again as Hamilton pips Rosberg; Vettel runs into yet more reliability trouble; Bottas and Grosjean star in final stage
By James Galloway. Last Updated: 10/05/14 6:24pm
Four-one to Hamilton in Mercedes' private pole duel
Lewis Hamilton turned the tables on Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg when it mattered most in Spanish GP Qualifying to secure his fourth pole in five attempts this season.
Ahead of a race in which he can seize the championship lead from the sister Mercedes - and currently his sole title rival - for the first time this year with a fourth win in succession, Hamilton trailed Rosberg through the first two knockout phases and his team-mate's advantage appeared to be confirmed when the Briton uttered over the radio "not quite sure how, but we have made the car worse".
However, whether via set-up tweaks in the garage or changes to his own approach to the lap, Hamilton was back on top in Q3 with two quicker laps than Rosberg, his final effort of 1:25.232 proving to be good enough for a 35th career pole by just over a tenth of a second.
With a first-ever pole at the Circuit de Catalunya now achieved, Hamilton will start as favourite to break his Barcelona victory duck on Sunday. Rosberg looks like being the only man even remotely capable of stopping him after qualifying confirmed that the anticipated closing of the gap to Mercedes from the distant chasing pack had failed to materialise. In sobering fact, it only appears to have increased.
He may have been a full second back on Hamilton, but it was again the unerringly impressive Daniel Ricciardo who took third with his fourth intra-Red Bull qualifying victory over Sebastian Vettel confirmed when the World Champion's RB10 conked out coming out of the pits at the start of Q3.
This is fast becoming the familiar post-qualy picture of 2014
Out of form, and now out of luck, Vettel had completed only four laps on Friday thanks to a short-circuited wiring loom and had been outpaced by Ricciardo in Q2 again before a gearbox problem stopped him in his tracks in the final stage. Red Bull later confirmed that the unit would need to be changed for the change, triggering a five-place grid penalty for the World Champion, who will now start 15th.
The deficit to Mercedes may be as big as ever, but Red Bull have at least returned to the position of 'best of the rest' at Barcelona after Ferrari's practice promise again gave way to an underwhelming qualifying hour and sixth and seventh places.
Spanish hero Fernando Alonso, having only made it through to Q3 by the skin of his teeth, was not only outpaced by team-mate Kimi Raikkonen for the second time but also by a Williams and Lotus in the form of Valtteri Bottas and Romain Grosjean.
While Bottas's fourth place came out of the blue, the sight of a Lotus on the third row would have appeared a far-fetched prospect when the team were propping up the back of the grid in Australia two months ago.
Not that the Enstone team have completely escaped those inglorious back-row confines, however, after Pastor Maldonado's wretched season lurched to a new low with a crash in Q1.
Pastor Maldonado was in the wars yet again
Having got out of shape through Turn Two on his first hot lap of the session, the Venezeulan lost control of the car going wide over the Astroturf in the long Turn Three and slewed into the inside concrete wall, wrecking his right-front suspension.
And with Swedish rookie Marcus Ericsson outqualifying Caterham team-mate Kamui Kobayashi for the first time, Maldonado's latest demise means he is the only driver on the grid yet to beat his stable-mate on a Saturday this season.
Had Maldonado safely navigated Q1 then his practice pace suggested he could have joined Grosjean in Q3. As it was, the top ten order was completed by Jenson Button in eighth, Felipe Massa in the second Williams and the luckless Vettel.
Vettel's faltering title defence is poised to take another hit come the end of Sunday's 66 laps of racing. The only question appears to be whether it will be Hamilton, or Rosberg, the German will be distantly chasing.
Coverage of Race Day, live on Sky Sports F1, starts at 11.30am with the Spanish GP underway at 1pm