Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg starred as he beat the scarlet cars of Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel to secure fifth. The Williams of Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa, and Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz completed the top ten.
Conditions were the best they’d been so far this weekend at the start of Q1, with 50 degrees Celsius track temperature at the start, and 17 degrees ambient.
Of the frontrunners, Hamilton set the early pace with 1m 19.770s, but that was then beaten by Vettel with 1m 19.865s, Verstappen with 1m 19.874s and Raikkonen with 1m 19.554s, and then Ricciardo did 1m 19.713s. At one stage Mercedes were only fifth and sixth after Rosberg had improved to 1m 19.996s. But then Hamilton got a good, clean run to go fastest by 0.107s on 1m 19.447s.
Further back, Manor’s Pascal Wehrlein bounced local hero Esteban Gutierrez with 1m 21.363s right at the end, just after the Mexican had spun his Haas in Turn 9 trying to improve on 1m 21.401s. Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat was left 18th on 1m 21.454s after complaining of power loss, and Felipe Nasr was unable to repeat his Sauber team mate’s 13th fastest time and was 19th after trailing him by six-tenths. Esteban Ocon in the second Manor was 20th on 1m 21.881s, as a troubled Romain Grosjean couldn’t better 1m 21.916s for 21st after having to avoid his spinning team mate at the end.
Missing altogether from the session was Jolyon Palmer, who had been 14th in FP3. After that session a crack was found in the monocoque of his Renault, necessitating a rebuild around the spare tub. As a result, he will start Sunday’s race at the stewards’ discretion from the back of the grid.
The track temperature had reached 52 degrees C by the start of Q2, as Mercedes and Ferrari opted to start on soft rubber. Hamilton was the first to go fast, with 1m 19.137s, but complained of Vettel’s presence in the stadium section during the lap, telling his crew: “That was a clear block.” Vettel in turn complained that his crew had not warned him of the world champion’s pending arrival. His best was 1m 19.385s, Rosberg’s 1m 19.761s and Raikkonen’s 1m 19.936s.
Then the Red Bulls went out on supersofts, and Verstappen sprang to the top ahead of Hamilton with 1m 18.972s. But Ricciardo’s effort was less stellar, leaving him fourth on 1m 19.553s.
Raikkonen did another run, on supersofts, and Rosberg also ran again, still on softs. Neither improved, but Hulkenberg jumped to sixth.
Some wholesale improvements further down saw Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz knock out countryman Fernando Alonso and McLaren out of Q3, with 1m 20.169s to 1m 20.282s, while just five-thousandths slower than the elder Spaniard was local hero Serio Perez, who could only muster 1m 20.287s in his Force India for 12th. Jenson Button had momentarily gone 10th with 1m 20.673s but that wasn’t fast enough and the McLaren driver slipped to 13th ahead of Kevin Magnussen in the sole Renault on 1m 21.131s, Marcus Ericsson on 1m 21.536s for Sauber, and Manor’s Wehrlein on 1m 21.785s.
And so it all came down to Q3, as the track temperature sidled up to 54 degrees C.
Again, Hamilton set the pace on the first runs, with 1m 18.704s. Verstappen got the closest with 1m 19.094s, despite some self-confessed mistakes, as Ricciardo took third with 1m 19.210s. Roberg’s effort yielded a lacklustre 1m 19.263s for fourth, as Hulkenberg excelled with 1m 19.330s and the Ferraris struggled. Raikkonen managed 1m 19.376s for sixth, Vettel eighth on 1m 20.087s.
Hamilton didn’t quite improve on his second run, which was still enough at 1m 18.710s, and his 10th pole of the year was secure as Rosberg’s best was a much more respectable 1m 18.958s, putting him ahead of the Red Bulls even though both went faster. Verstappen trimmed to 1m 19.054s, Ricciardo to 1m 19.133s.
Hulkenberg stayed fifth and Raikkonen sixth, as neither improved, while Vettel got down to 1m 19.381s for seventh ahead of the Williams duo of Bottas and Massa on 1m 19.551s and 1m 20.032s respectively. Sainz rounded out the leading 10 with 1m 20.378s.
Thus the provisional grid reads: Hamilton, Rosberg; Verstappen, Ricciardo; Hulkenberg, Raikkonen; Vettel, Bottas; Massa, Sainz; Alonso, Perez; Button, Magnussen; Ericsson, Wehrlein; Gutierrez, Kvyat; Nasr, Ocon; Grosjean, Palmer.