Robert Kubica was first out on track, no doubt keen to ensure his new gearbox was race ready. His time of 1.21.860 was somewhat irrelevant in the scheme of things with a grid penalty awaiting.
Lance Stroll soon knocked 2.7 seconds of the Williams driver’s time while Nico Hulkenberg had a brush with the barriers drawing a yellow flag. He headed back to the pits with bits of his car not where they should be as the action resumed, Leclerc going quickest, two tenths ahead of teammate Sebastian Vettel.
Verstappen was next to strike, taking the top spot by half a second as the track temperatures soared in the afternoon sun. Bottas soon bettered the Dutchman’s time by a fraction before Leclerc improved on his first time but not enough to bother the front row.
Hulkenberg finally reappeared as the cars made their final runs. Hamilton went third fastest as Norris and Perez put in strong last laps to leave Hulkenberg, Stroll, Giovinazzi, Russell and Kubica in the drop zone.
After the early runs in Q2, Mercedes looked a level above the Ferraris and that’s the way it stayed throughout the session with Bottas topping the times ahead of Hamilton.
The Ferraris lagged well behind in third and fourth ahead of Max Verstappen who had briefly spilt the Prancing Horses.
Pierre Gasly was last to set a time but finished the session fifth fastest ahead of Grosjean, Kyvat, Magnussen and Renault’s Ricciardo, who was happy to make Q3. Ahead of the final runs, Leclerc briefly dropped into the elimination zone but rallied to claim fourth place, albeit with an uninspiring time. Norris, Albon, Sainz, Raikkonen and Perez all missed out on Q3.
Lewis Hamilton was the first of the main contenders to attempt a hot lap, setting a time of 1.16.040. But that was soon overshadowed by Bottas who smashed his teammate’s time by more than half a second.
Vettel went third fastest but appeared to be closing the gap to Hamilton. Meanwhile, Max Verstappen clocked within a tenth of a second of the Ferrari driver.
Hamilton went searching for something extra but over-cooked it and dipped into the gravel. Things just weren’t going right for the Brit who was desperate to halt Bottas’ run of pole positions.
Leclerc’s hot lap left him behind Verstappen hinting Red Bull could be a real threat to the Ferraris this weekend.
Hamilton had another go but could not overcome Bottas leaving Vettel and Leclerc as the only drivers with a chance of stopping the Finn. But neither could improve on their positions leaving Bottas on top for the third race running.
“This feels really good. In every run in Qualifying I found room for improvement, little bits here and there, and I managed to get everything together in Q3 and had a very strong first lap. I think the package we have brought to Barcelona is working very well and the car was very strong, especially in Sector 3. All the credit for that goes to the team, thank you to everyone back in Brackley and Brixworth. Our long run pace looked good on Friday, but a lot can happen on a Sunday. The start and Turn 1 will be particularly important. Tomorrow, Lewis and I both want to win, so I’m looking forward to a hard and fair fight,” added the pole-sitter.