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MONTMELO, Spain (AP) — Valtteri Bottas is poised to become a major threat to teammate and defending Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton after clocking a scorching lap at the Spanish Grand Prix to win his third consecutive pole position on Saturday.
Bottas smashed Hamilton’s track record at the Barcelona-Catalunya Circuit in qualifying, rocketing through the 4.6-kilometer (2.5-mile) track in 1 minute, 15.406 to better Hamilton’s mark from 2018.
More importantly for Bottas’ hopes in Sunday’s race was the gap of more than half a second he established over the best effort from Hamilton.
Bottas, who failed to win a race last season, leads Hamilton by one point in the standings after they have alternated places in their run of one-two finishes.
“I really enjoyed that adrenaline rush from those laps,” Bottas said. “It started well, this season. Just the way I hoped for. I am feeling better and better in the car.”
With Hamilton second on the grid, Mercedes is in great position to extend its record start after the pair swept the top two spots at the first four races.
Hamilton praised his teammate, who has emerged as the No. 1 challenger to stopping him from winning a sixth world title.
“Valtteri did a fantastic job. He has been quick all weekend,” said Hamilton, who took the pole in Spain in the previous three years.
“I just didn’t do the job on my side.”
Hamilton was quick to add 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 (in the race) I’ll be happy.”
But Hamilton is getting far too accustomed to seeing the back of Bottas’ car. Bottas won the last race in Azerbaijan from the pole. He was fastest in practice on Friday, and the Finn showed no jitters in qualifying after spinning into gravel in the final practice.
Bottas shouted an emphatic “Yes!” over the car radio when he knew the top spot was his after Hamilton came up short on his last run, with some gravel strewn on the course possible slowing him down.
Sebastian Vettel in his Ferrari will start from third, just in front of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. Ferrari’s other driver, Charles Leclerc, will start from fifth.
Vettel has yet to top qualifying, and it is clear Ferrari has made up no ground despite bringing a new engine to Spain. Vettel is 35 points behind Bottas in third place.
“The car doesn’t feel bad, but the car is not quick enough,” Vettel said. “We are struggling a little bit to bring it together.”
Pierre Gasly had the sixth best time in his Red Bull, ahead of Haas pair Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen.
Nico Hulkenberg was the only driver to go off the track in an otherwise clean qualifying session. The German ran into the barrier and bent one side of his front wing under his Renault. After hasty repairs, Hulkenberg could not make it out of the first qualifying section, which culls the slowest five drivers.
Williams’ woes deepened after George Russell lost control during practice before qualifying. Damage from the rear-end impact into the wall required a gearbox change, which incurred him a five-place grid penalty.
Russell and teammate Robert Kubica were again at the bottom of qualifying with the slowest cars.