Sebastian Vettel made the quickest start to 2017 as the temperature on track dropped slightly after final practice – but the Mercedes boys weren’t out on track. Valtteri Bottas was the first one to make in-roads, then Hamilton took over top place in the rankings.
Bottas took a three-hundredths of a second lead over Hamilton early on – significantly better than he managed against the Brit during practice, when he was always lagging behind.
Romain Grosjean had a bit of a whinge over the radio, claiming he was blocked by Ericsson. His team calmed him down and suggested he simply go again; when he did, he made it comfortably into Q3, declaring that he “gave it all”.
Sergio Perez had a similar problem with Felipe Massa, and Force India fired some Twitter shots, using the sainted words of Sebastian Vettel.
Then poor Fernando Alonso pulled into the pits having lost power in his McLaren as viewers around the world got the oddest sense of déjà vu.
OUT: Perez (Force India), Hulkenberg (Renault), Alonso (McLaren), Ocon (Force India), Ericsson (Sauber)
Some drops of rain began to fall, and the reigning world champion suddenly decided to let his former colleagues know he was watching.
Sebastian Vettel took provisional pole from the grasp of Bottas – and then Hamilton just cruised past and took it for himself.
The red flag was then waved after Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo ended up in the barrier at Turn 14, running too wide and then spinning off. Physically he was fine (although he sounded extremely upset to have had such a problem in his home race); the car was not.
When the session started again, Bottas nipped to the front once more before being overtaken by Hamilton - and then Vettel cut in to stop that Mercedes lock-out of the front row. Three-tenths of a second split the top three.
Meet the new season - same as the old season? Hamilton was comfortably on pole, the 62nd of his career - and may be more comfortable all round now that he has a brand-new team-mate with whom he doesn't have a blisteringly awful feud. At least not yet.
Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany returns to the pits during the third practice session
Image credit: Reuters
Jolyon Palmer (Renault). He was late out on to the track after his big crash during practice, and the lack of time on track told, finishing dead last in Q1. It was exacerbated by his team-mate Nico Hulkenberg grabbing fifth in Q1, showing that there’s certainly some pace in the car.
ONE TO WATCH
Sebastian Vettel showed glimmers of a real challenge for the Mercedes cars. That will give him hope for the race - particularly if he can put the pressure on Bottas, who's still settling into the team.