Lewis Hamilton claimed pole position for the third time this year after seeing off the threat from team mate Nico Rosberg in Spain.
The Mercedes driver served notice of his potential with a flying lap in Q2 and recovered from a mistake on his first run in Q3 to take pole position at the Circuit de Catalunya for the second time in his career.
Red Bull came to the fore in qualifying and captured the second row of the grid at the expense of the struggling Ferrari drivers.
A lap of 1’23.002 – the fastest of the weekend so far – saw Rosberg secure the fastest time in the first phase of qualifying by two-tenths of a second from Hamilton. However immediately behind them the closest threat came not from Ferrari but Red Bull.
And the Red Bull driver leading the way was not Daniel Ricciardo, the team’s best qualifier of the first four races, but new driver Max Verstappen. His first lap on soft tyres left him just over half a second off Rosberg.
At the opposite end of the time sheets the fight to reach Q2 was closely-fought. Sauber and Manor didn’t really figure in it and will occupy the final rows of the grid. But the last two places in the drop zone swapped places several times in the final minutes – and produced a surprise elimination.
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Felipe Massa’s first effort left him seven-tenths of a second behind team mate Valtteri Bottas. The team had joined the track late in the session, and Massa had too little time left for another run having failed to make the cut.
A late improvement from Jenson Button consigned fellow Briton Jolyon Palmer to a Q1 departure, the Renault driver having set his best time on used tyres.
Drivers eliminated in Q1
Hamilton hit back hard as Q2 began, delivering a lap exactly six-tenths of a second quicker than Rosberg’s to lead the standings. Only his team mate got within a second of that with their first runs – the best of the rest being led again by Verstappen.
Kimi Raikkonen was next, the Ferrari driver abandoning his first run after understeering wide in turn four. Ricciardo also did a second run and moved up to fifth, demoting Vettel who did not use another set of tyres in Q2.
One of the last drivers to claim a place in Q3 was Sergio Perez, who eliminated team mate Nico Hulkenberg by doing so. Carlos Sainz Jnr made it three out of four Red Bull-backed drivers in the top ten, leaving new team mate Daniil Kvyat behind.
McLaren also had one of their drivers in Q3 – but that’s one more than they’ve had at every other round since teaming up with Honda. Fernando Alonso delivered the goods at his home event, edging Hulkenberg by a mere 11 thousandths of a second.
Drivers eliminated in Q2
|11||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India-Mercedes||1’24.203|
|13||Daniil Kvyat||Toro Rosso-Ferrari||1’24.445|
Hamilton was the first driver to set a lap in Q3 and looked on course to comfortably head the tyres until he reached the final sector. He grabbed the front-left brake at turn ten, understeered wide in a cloud of smoke, and handed the initiative to Rosberg. Hamilton still completed the lap, setting a 1’23.277, but that opened the door for Verstappen to pop in and provisionally claim a place on the front row by seven-hundredths of a second.
The Ferrari pair were struggling awfully, the SF16-Hs looking as if they were driving on a track which was damp instead of a warm 44C. Raikkonen grappled with oversteer in turn 12 and came past the pits two seconds slower than Rosberg. Vettel was only three-tenths quicker.
Only those five drivers did a run at the start of Q3 but all ten returned to the track for a final effort. Once again Hamilton was the first of the Mercedes drivers to set a time – and if he was feeling the heat from Rosberg, he wasn’t showing it.
His final flying effort was as flawless and clean as the perfectly-rounded 82 second lap time suggested. Rosberg was left to settle for second best, almost three-tenths of a second down on his team mate.
Just as unflappable was Ricciardo, who with his single run in Q3 produced the perfect response to the threat from his junior team mate. Ricciardo claimed third on the grid by a solid four-tenths of a second.
That demoted the Ferrari pair to the third row of the grid. Raikkonen got the most out of the car but was still over a second down on Hamilton.
Top ten in Q3
|3||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull-TAG Heuer||1’22.680|
|4||Max Verstappen||Red Bull-TAG Heuer||1’23.087|
|8||Carlos Sainz Jnr||Toro Rosso-Ferrari||1’23.643|
|9||Sergio Perez||Force India-Mercedes||1’23.782|
2016 Spanish Grand Prix
- 2016 Monaco and Spanish Grands Prix team radio transcripts
- Vettel’s strategy “screwed” my race in Spain – Ricciardo
- Ricciardo still coming to terms with losing Spain win
- F1 Fanatic presents new podcast Motorsport Extra
- Landslide Driver of the Weekend win for Verstappen