There was a worry that Mercedes would be miles ahead of everyone this year but as qualifying progressed, things between the top three teams looked incredibly close.
Much was being made of Mercedes’ new ‘party mode’ for qualifying, which was meant to give the team an even bigger boost in speed than we’ve seen in previous years. When Hamilton suddenly stuck in a pole lap over six-tenths quicker than anyone else it seemed reasonable to think that ‘party mode’ was at least partly responsible.
Hamilton, however, insisted that he wasn’t using any special engine modes and that his lap – which he said was as close as it gets to perfection – was all down to him.
“On that lap I was in the same mode as lap before – it was about getting the tyres in the right temperature and getting the sectors right. I had good sectors before but it was about putting them together.
“I can assure you we don’t have a party mode. I used the same mode from Q2 to the end of Q3. There was no extra mode, no extra button I engaged in.”
This led to an amusing exchange with Vettel, who wondered why the gap had suddenly become so large.
SV: “What were you doing before then?”
LH: “I was waiting to put a good lap in and wipe the smile off your face.”
Ouch! Sure, it’s all good humour, but the rivalry is heating up early this year.
In the end Vettel was even beaten by his teammate, apparently the result of a small error on his final run.
“The last lap I had a moment in Turn 13, tried to brake really late but didn’t work. It’s a shame that Lewis had quite a big gap, but I guess his lap was good in the end.
“Hopefully they [Mercedes] did turn it on today [the engine mode] so have to turn it off tomorrow. It is close. We saw in long runs the pace is close, but who knows. Really, happy for the team, it is a good result.”
I think we’re all hoping that Seb! If Mercedes has a good half-a-second over everyone without a special qualifying mode, then it’s going to be a long season. Toto Wolff later confirmed that Hamilton did use a different setting for Q3, but they had us all going for a while!