Just when you think a pattern is emerging in this topsy turvy F1 season, it still has the power to surprise you. And Lewis Hamilton certainly surprised everyone here this evening as he snatched the 66th pole position of his career.
In every race so far this year it’s been possible to detect reasons why there really isn’t a gap between the two top teams. Coming here, by the Caspian Sea, Sebastian Vettel had won three races, and so had Lewis Hamilton. But on each occasion that one failed to get the big result, it was possible to see how they might have, where small things had unravelled for them and made the critical difference. The true gap between them seemed miniscule.
And then came Baku, the weird ‘circuit of two halves’. Where one half is about minimising drag for maximum speed on the two big straights, and the other about getting the most downforce and grip in the slow stuff.
Yesterday Mercedes were struggling, as Red Bull’s Max Verstappen rose brilliantly to the challenge to go fastest in both sessions. Ferrari weren’t far off either, and things even seemed to favour them in the long run given that it was an odd day with lots of incidents preventing any consistent running.
But Mercedes’ engineers and mechanics worked long into the night, reasoning where they’d gone wrong. In the final practice session Valtteri Bottas was fastest, but only by a tenth from Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen as traffic hampered Hamilton and a water leak had sent Vettel to the garage.
So how did the driver of Mercedes #44 manage to win that 66th pole position of his career by 0.434s from his own team-mate, and a whopping 1.1s from the leading red car?
The script for the final session of qualifying had Hollywood overtones all the way through.
Hamilton dominated Q1 and Q2, by half a second over Verstappen in the former, by a couple of tenths over Bottas in the latter. But just when it seemed that he was going to carry on in that vein in Q3, he made a…