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Hamilton Moves In On F1 Pole Record

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, June 25 2017

Britain’s Lewis Hamilton is on the pole in Azerbaijan. The pole is the 66th of his career. (File photo)

Mercedes AMG’s Lewis Hamilton continued to rewrite Formula One history Saturday, when he qualified on-pole for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix at the expense of boyhood hero Ayrton Senna.

Hamilton’s fast lap of 1-minute, 40.593-seconds set a track qualifying record around the 3.730-mile/6.003-kilometer/20-turn Baku City Circuit. Hamilton’s hot lap was 0.434-seconds better than runnerup and teammate Valtteri Bottas (1:41.027) as the Silver Arrows recorded another front row sweep.

Hamilton’s 66th career Formula One pole broke the record previously held by the late three-time World Driving Champion Senna for second-most P1 starts in series history. Only seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher of Germany has more poles with 68. This also was Hamilton’s fifth pole in 2017, his second straight and first at Baku City Circuit.

Championship leader Sebastian Vettel, a four-time world champion from Germany driving for Scuderia Ferrari, finished fourth behind teammate Kimi Raikkonen.

Hamilton, himself a three-time world champion, tied Senna at 65 when he qualified P1 for the Canadian Grand Prix. Standing before thousands of fans at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal, the Brit was taken aback when presented a genuine Senna helmet from the Senna family collection for matching his idol’s record.

“Well, I mean it’s already an amazing thing to have matched him,” Hamilton said of the Brazilian on Saturday. “The crazy thing is the hunger for another pole…I thought maybe once I matched him maybe it would fade but I was hungrier than ever today, even more hungry than I was before, so that’s a good thing. I’m grateful for that because that’s what drives me. And yeah, hopefully I’ll continue to grow and get better as a driver _ and as a human being. That’s the goal. Every day.

“I wouldn’t say I was surprised by the lap time. The guys did fantastic work and analysis last night and we made fantastic changes to the car. It went in the right direction and it just progressed from there into P3 and into qualifying. All weekend we’ve not been able to do a one-lap for us, some others had, but it was all-or-nothing, so I had to give it everything I had.

“Valtteri was just up ahead of me and I could see he was obviously on a great lap as well. I came across the line so happy because even if I was second it was still an awesome one, single lap, which I was really proud of. I just want to say a big thank you to the guys who worked all really super late last night to make sure the cars are where they are today. Yeah, excited. For me that lap was…my last lap in Montreal was pretty special but I think this one topped it.”

Meanwhile, American-owned Haas F1 Team drivers Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean qualified 13th and 17th, respectively. Magnussen, however, will start 12th due to a three-place grid penalty being served by Carlos Sainz Jr. The Toro Rosso driver qualified 12th but incurred the penalty after causing an accident during the Canadian Grand Prix.

Magnussen improved his Q1 lap time of 1:44.029 to 1:43.796 in Q2, moving the native of Denmark from 14th to 13th. Grosjean was 17th-quickest in Q1 with a lap of 1:44.468. Both Magnussen and Grosjean ran exclusively on the Pirelli P Zero Red supersoft tire throughout qualifying.

“It was a good qualifying considering our position this weekend,” said Magnussen, who is in his first season with the team owned by American businessman Gene Haas. “It’s not been our most competitive track _ perhaps the weakest track we’ve been to this year in terms of competitiveness. So to be P12, after penalties and all that are done, I think we should be happy with that. It’s going to be a tough race tomorrow, but I’ll do what I can.” 

Grosjean will start 16th due to a grid penalty being served by Fernando Alonso, the two-time world champion from Spain who is in the midst of a frustrating and embarrassing FIA Formula One World Championship season. The McLaren/Honda driver qualified 16th but will start Round 8 of 20 at the rear of the field after having to replace the turbocharger on his No. 14 car for the seventh time this season while also introducing a new engine. Alonso received little sympathy from Grosjean.

“I’ve been struggling with the feeling and struggling with the driving style,” the Frenchman said. “The tires are really hard to bite the track. It’s been something I’ve been struggling with since Russia _ where the tires are hard and the track is really smooth. I don’t get any feedback from the tires on the grip and what’s in the corners. I need to work on that and be better in these conditions. I just didn’t find the right balance.

“It’s going to be a long race and looking at all the practices, there’s going to be a lot going on. Hopefully, we get a good race.” 

Earlier Saturday, Magnussen and Grosjean ran identical programs during the third (FP3) and final 60-minute session, with a double installation lap on White medium tires before switching over to Red supersofts in an effort to simulate qualifying. Magnussen ran 20 laps in the No.20 Ferrari-powered Haas entry and set the 15th-fastest time with a 1:44.926 on his penultimate tour. Grosjean also logged 20 laps, earning his best time in the No. 8 car on his 18th tour at 1:45.491 that put him 17th overall.

Fastest in FP3 was Bottas, whose best lap of 1:42.742 was 0.095-seconds quicker than nearest pursuer and fellow-Finn Räikkönen, the 2007 world champion.

“I think to qualify 13th and 17th _ which eventually becomes 12th and 16th once others serve penalties _ I wouldn’t have expected that after FP3 this afternoon,” said Guenther Steiner, Haas F1 team principal. “I would say we’ve put ourselves in a good position again to score points for tomorrow. That’s what we’ll try to do.”

NBC Sports Network’s live race day coverage will begin Sunday at 8 a.m. (EDT).



| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, June 25 2017
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