Three pole positions for Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel in the first four race weekends of the 2018 Formula 1 season and three of them in a row, that is a statement of fact, but sounds like F1 fan fiction given how Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes dominated qualifying last year and also in Melbourne this year.
And yet here we are, looking forward to the Azerbaijan Grand Prix at the 20-turn, 6.003km Baku City Circuit to see if Vettel and Ferrari can recover from a Chinese Grand Prix that went completely topsy-turvy for them. And of course, for Mercedes, who looked very likely to win courtesy of Valtteri Bottas before a Toro Rosso-Honda induced safety car period led to a classic F1 race.
Neither Bottas or Hamilton could best Vettel for Pole today as the Ferrari driver’s lap of 1min.41.498sec. was 0.179 and 0.339 seconds faster than Hamilton and Bottas’ best efforts, respectively.
It could very well have been an all-Ferrari front row as well had Kimi Raikkonen not gone too early on the power coming out of a 90 degree right-hand-turn and induced a very noticeable power slide. The slide cost him the advantage he had over his Ferrari teammate through the first two sectors of the lap, leaving him sixth on the starting grid behind the Red Bull-Renault duo of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen.
It is unclear as to whether Ricciardo and Red Bull will be able to challenge Ferrari and Mercedes in race conditions, but if the race is even a fraction as eventful as last year’s edition then both Ricciardo and Verstappen look well poised to take advantage.
Behind the big three teams, Force India-Mercedes were seventh and eighth on the grid thanks to Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez while Renault F1’s Nico Hulkenberg was ninth fastest. Hulkenberg will, however, receive a five-place grid penalty for having to have a new gearbox fitted to his car before qualifying. His teammate Carlos Sainz completed the top ten.
The tense qualifying session also saw a scary incident between the Toro Rosso drivers Brendon Hartley and Pierre Gasly as the two nearly collided when Gasly came upon a very slow moving Hartley who was right on the racing line in a tight section of the circuit.