Lewis Hamilton blitzed the Formula One field with a phenomenal last lap to secure pole position for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
Just as in Canada a fortnight previously, Hamilton made it count when it mattered most to finish nearly half-a-second clear of his team-mate Valtteri Bottas as Mercedes locked out the front row for the second time in as many races.
Hamilton’s championship rival Sebastian Vettel will start only fourth after he was out-qualified by his Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen.
American pop group Black Eyed Peas and singer Nicole Scherzinger are both performing here on Saturday night. And unsurprisingly it was the former who Hamilton enjoyed a dinner date with in the Mercedes hospitality suite in the moments before qualifying.
There were rumblings in the paddock that the mere presence of Hamilton’s former long-term girlfriend this weekend may ruffle his feathers. Indeed he reacted in a prickly fashion when a German journalist asked if he planned to see her.
There are concerts at every race,” Hamilton said. “I am focussed on winning the race.” His crushing performance in qualifying has provided him with the chance to do just that.
The 66th pole of his career has moved him above Ayrton Senna and into a standalone second in the all-time list. Indeed Hamilton could match Michael Schumacher’s pole record, of which he is now two short, in front of a capacity crowd at Silverstone for next month’s British Grand Prix.
The narrow confines of the Baku City Circuit have caused a number of problems for drivers here with Turn Eight – the strip of tarmac which measures just 7.8 metres in width – the scene of two crashes.
But it was the right-handed Turn Six that caught Daniel Ricciardo on the hop as he lost the rear of his Red Bull and thudded into the wall.
The Australian sustained damage to the left rear of his car and was forced to stop on track. The red flags were immediately deployed and the clock stopped with three minutes and 33 seconds remaining.
Bottas held the advantage over Hamilton after the Briton made a mistake during his first run in the top-10 shootout. But with the odds against him, Hamilton responded in emphatic fashion to take his second consecutive pole.
For Vettel, who holds a 12-point lead over Hamilton in the title race, it has been a difficult weekend. He failed to trouble the time sheets yesterday, before missing most of final practice with a hydraulic issue.
Jolyon Palmer is a man under pressure following his pointless start to the new season. The 26-year-old Englishman crashed yesterday before he was ruled out of qualifying after his Renault engine caught on fire during this morning’s practice session.
His Renault team were unable to repair the damage caused by the blaze, and Palmer played no part. He will start from the back of the field.
Palmer however, will take some joy from the fact that he will not occupy the final row following yet another troublesome weekend for McLaren in another troublesome year.
Fernando Alonso is due to start last after serving a mammoth 40-place penalty following a raft of changes to his hapless Honda engine. His team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne will start one place higher up after he was penalised 35 spots following new parts on his engine and a new gearbox, too.
Alonso was knocked out of Q1 for the first time this year with his sluggish Honda engine struggling for speed on the longest straight on the calendar.
“Our speed is that slow that they think we are on a slow lap,” Alonso told Sky Sports. “But no this is our speed.”
Alonso, 35, is out of contract with McLaren at the end of the season, and Briatore’s very public dates will only heighten the British team’s concern that their star man will leave.