By Alan Baldwin
BAKU, April 28 (Reuters) – Ferrari’s Formula One championship leader Sebastian Vettel completed a pole position hat-trick on Saturday by beating title rival Lewis Hamilton to the top slot at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
The German, nine points ahead of Mercedes’s reigning champion, will be hoping to convert his third pole in a row into a third victory in four races on Sunday.
Vettel was comfortably quicker than Hamilton, pulling out a fastest lap of one minute 41.498 seconds compared to the Briton’s 1:41.677 around the street circuit on the shores of the Caspian Sea.
Finland’s Valtteri Bottas was third fastest for Mercedes with Australian Daniel Ricciardo, winner in Baku last year and in China two weekends ago, qualifying fourth for Red Bull on an overcast and gusty evening.
“It will be an intense race. Anything can happen here and safety cars are likely,” said Vettel, who had struggled to break into the top 10 on the timesheets on Friday but led Saturday’s final session.
“The good point is that our car was really good this afternoon so it should be in a good place tomorrow,” added the four times world champion.
“Yesterday I struggled a bit with confidence and trust in the car and rhythm but today, when it clicks, it just keeps coming.”
Hamilton, also a four times champion but yet to win a race this season, said he had lost some crucial time in the final sector.
Second on the grid was still his best start position since pole in the Australian season-opener, with Ferrari sweeping the front row at the last two.
“They were quickest all weekend and they obviously have a phenomenal car this year. But I’m really happy with what the team did to get us from where we were yesterday to today,” said Hamilton.
“We are in the mix. I will try to give Sebastian a hard time tomorrow.”
Red Bull’s 20-year-old Dutchman Max Verstappen will start fifth alongside Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen, who had looked like he could join Vettel on the front row for the third race in a row, and possibly beat him, but made a big mistake on his last lap.
The Force India pair of Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez, who tangled in Baku last year in a clash that cost the team a likely podium, will line up together on the fourth row.
Nico Hulkenberg qualified ninth for Renault but the tall German will collect a five place drop for an unscheduled gearbox change, lifting his Spanish team mate Carlos Sainz to that position instead.
Canadian Lance Stroll, third in Baku last year, will start 10th for Williams. (Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ken Ferris)
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