F1 Raceweek: Hamilton sparks into life but McLaren continue to struggle

While Sebastian Vettel claimed pole yet again, Lewis Hamilton's improved display suggests Sunday's race could be close in Baku.

Lewis Hamilton in action during qualifying in Baku   -  Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Sebastian Vettel continues to be the master of qualifying this season, with the Ferrari driver claiming a third successive pole in Azerbaijan.

Rather than leave it late, the German laid down an early marker in Q3 and then watched as none of his rivals managed to beat his time. 

However, despite impressing again on a Saturday, Vettel knows the actual race will be anything but straightforward. The demanding Baku City Circuit will test the drivers, while the forecasted windy conditions could also add an extra twist to the tale.

Lewis Hamilton, occupying second spot on the grid, will hope he can break his duck in 2018, while Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas sits nicely placed in third.

Daniel Ricciardo - hoping to win the race for a second consecutive time - will line up in fourth, two spots ahead of Kimi Raikkonen, who let slip the chance to secure pole with a mistake in the final stages of his flying lap.



When asked by Sky Sports, Bernie Ecclestone did not pull any punches about Hamilton's performances so far. "He doesn't seem to be the Lewis that he was before," the former F1 supremo said bluntly.

Perhaps all Hamilton needed was someone to light a fire underneath him. More likely, though, he just required some tweaks to his car following a frustrating Friday.

The reigning world champion showed improved speed and hopes to "make some trouble" for Ferrari in Sunday's race, having qualified just a tenth slower than pole-sitter Vettel.

Ecclestone was right that Hamilton has not been at his best so far this year, yet he still sits just nine points behind the championship leader in the standings. After looking below-par in practice, his performance in qualifying suggests a first win of the season may not be too far away.


Exactly what is going on with McLaren in qualifying these days?

Media speculation suggested Tim Goss was removed from his position as chief technical officer ahead of Azerbaijan after a disappointing start to the season. And they once again struggled on a Saturday, with both their drivers still yet to make it to Q3.

Fernando Alonso finished 13th - albeit he was moved up a place on the grid due to a five-place penalty handed to Nico Hulkenberg for a change of gearbox - while Stoffel Vandoorne continued to struggle, ending up in 16th after failing to get out of Q1.

"I think we can pull together a good race performance tomorrow," Vandoorne said afterwards, yet those words appear to be more in hope than expectation.

Alonso has recorded some impressive results this season despite his car, not because of it. While Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull battle it out for podium places, McLaren are mired in a midfield battle.




1. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) 54
2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 45 (-9)
3. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) 40 (-14)
4. Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) 37 (-17)
5. Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) 30 (-24)


1. Mercedes 85
2. Ferrari 84 (-1)
3. Red Bull 55 (-30)
4. McLaren 28 (-57)
5. Renault 25 (-)



2017: Daniel Ricciardo



Sunday is set to be cooler than Saturday in Baku, with high winds potentially making an impact on proceedings too. However, there is no rain predicted to fall during the race.

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