Monaco (AP) — Lewis Hamilton beat his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas to take pole position for the Monaco Grand Prix on Saturday, while Ferrari slipped down the grid after another error-strewn performance.
Hamilton shouted “Yes, yes, yes!” after his second pole of the season ended Bottas’ bid for a fourth straight pole. Hamilton beat the Finnish driver’s time on his last lap and dedicated his record-extending 85th pole to Niki Lauda.
“This one’s for Niki,” Hamilton said.
Lauda, Hamilton’s friend and mentor, died on Monday at the age of 70 less than one year after a lung transplant. There will be a special ceremony held in Lauda’s honor shortly before Sunday’s race.
Lauda, a three-time F1 champion, played a key role in persuading Hamilton to join Mercedes in 2013 after leaving McLaren, and Hamilton has won four of his five titles under the guidance of Lauda and head of motorsport Toto Wolff .
“I can’t remember (a pole position) which means as much as this one, in what’s been a difficult week,” Hamilton said. “We had a cloud over us this week and really tried to deliver for Niki … We tried to do him proud, and hopefully so far we are.”
Bottas, who wore a black armband on his left sleeve in memory of Lauda, thought he should have beaten Hamilton.
“Congratulations to Lewis,” Bottas said. “But I’m really disappointed, I had the speed today.”
Max Verstappen underlined his consistent start to the season by qualifying in third place for Red Bull, ahead of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.
The mood in the Ferrari camp is likely to be a despondent one in what is already a difficult season.
After Vettel’s crash earlier Saturday in the third and final practice, the team made a glaring strategical error which resulted in teammate Charles Leclerc being eliminated from the first section of qualifying.
Leclerc had hopes of being on the front row but instead starts his home race in a lowly 16th place on a street circuit where overtaking is notoriously difficult.
Ferrari is clearly feeling the pressure with Mercedes finishing 1-2 in all five races this season. Hamilton is chasing his sixth F1 title and leads the championship by seven points from Bottas heading into Sunday’s race.
Vettel’s last of four F1 titles was in 2013 with Red Bull and this season he is under pressure from within the team.
The 21-year-old Leclerc, who took a brilliant pole in Bahrain, had been fastest in third practice and he was furious with his team’s incomprehensible error.
Qualifying is split into three sections, with five drivers eliminated from Q1 and Q2 to leave 10 contesting pole.
Leclerc was kept in the garage toward the end of Q1, apparently to save tires for the race itself, and with his team thinking he’d already done enough. But it backfired disastrously as he dropped down to 16th in Q1 and failed to even make Q2.
“These are errors we absolutely should not be making, to be eliminated in Q1 in Monaco is the worst thing that can happen,” Leclerc said on television after the race. “Especially when we easily have the performance to reach Q3. We should have gone out again, we had put in a lot of fuel to do several laps … I didn’t understand why we weren’t going out again.”
Earlier Saturday, Vettel struggled with his composure once again.
Despite enjoying idyllic racing conditions under blue skies and a dry track, Vettel appeared to lock the inside left wheel and went straight into the exit barriers at Saint Devote. He swore on team radio, then clambered out of his car and walked back to the team garage with his race helmet on.
Vettel has not won any of the past 13 races, dating back to last year’s Belgian GP in late August. His vulnerability under pressure was evident the last two seasons, when he made key mistakes in losing the title race to Hamilton.
Leclerc had a near miss with the Haas car of Kevin Magnussen moments after Vettel’s crash.
Then it got worse for Leclerc, through no fault of his own.