Valtteri Bottas

Championship leader Valtteri Bottas grabbed pole position for Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix when he outpaced his Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton in a tightly contested qualifying session.

The Finn, who leads the defending five-time champion by a single point in this year’s title race, completed a hat-trick of successive poles this year after taking the prime grid position in both China and Azerbaijan.

Bottas clocked a stunning track record lap of 1min 15.406sec to finish six-tenths clear of his British teammate. With Hamilton second, it gave Mercedes another front row lockout and suggested this year’s title race may become a duel between the two Silver Arrows drivers.

Four-time champion Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari was third ahead of Max Verstappen of Red Bull, Charles Leclerc in the second Ferrari and Pierre Gasly in the second Red Bull. Romain Grosjean was seventh ahead of his Haas teammate Kevin Magnussen, Russian Daniil Kvyat of Toro Rosso and Daniel Ricciardo in his Renault.

“I really enjoyed that. The adrenalin rush you get from laps like that is great so I am really pleased. The season has started well, the way I hoped for, and I feel better in the car,” said Bottas.

Hamilton congratulated Bottas and conceded that he had been unable to extract the maximum from his car on a circuit where he was hoping to land his own hat-trick of three straight Spanish poles.

“Valtteri did a fantastic job. He has been quick all weekend. I just didn’t do the job on my side,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton then said he hoped to celebrate another Mercedes team victory on Sunday, but with him on top. “I’ll be giving it everything. Great for the team to have a one-two. If I can reverse it I’ll be happy.”

Sebastian Vettel in his Ferrari will start from third, just in front of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc will start from fifth. Vettel is 35 points behind Bottas in third place.

Hamilton won the pole at the Barcelona-Catalunya Circuit in the previous three seasons, going on to win the last two races.

Bottas was fastest in practice on Friday, and he showed no jitters in qualifying from the slip earlier on Saturday in the final practice when he spun off into the gravel.

Bottas shouted an emphatic ‘Yes!’ over the car radio when he knew the pole was his after Hamilton and Vettel came up short on their last runs.

Vettel has yet to top qualifying this season, and it is clear Ferrari has made up no ground despite bringing a new engine to Spain.

“The car doesn’t feel bad, but the car is not quick enough. We are struggling a little bit to bring it together,” Vettel said.