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Hamilton pips Bottas to top Spanish GP third practice

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Lewis Hamilton claimed his first pole position since the opening round

Since those opening races, however, things have slowed down for Vettel and Ferrari.

He will be looking to extend that lead this weekend as he takes to the track in Barcelona.

But Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff says he "fully understands" his rivals' decision. "We came to Melbourne and our vehicle performed well and suddenly you are behind a Ferrari".

"We got through all our running and were quite fast compared to previous years", Hamilton said. "But having such a good weekend here, and winning by a solid margin, is very important for his confidence".

"I chipped away at my lap time by a few hundredths but it wasn't enough", Ricciardo said.

"For us it was not an option to stay out", Vettel said. Fantastic race, you could tell that the driver, the vehicle and the team worked perfectly today.

Hamilton echoed the optimism coming from Wolff. "We were going through the tyres quicker than the others today". Not did we have a disadvantage here, was that the case, was this the case, did the Safety Car help or not? "I hope everyone will enjoy it!"

"Everything we put on the vehicle seems to work and that's important", Vettel said. I'm almost in the groove.

"I think everything is close, but I don't know what Ferrari's pace is", said world champion Lewis Hamilton.

The Briton secured a front-row lockout for Mercedes, pipping his team-mate Valtteri Bottas, who ended in second, to pole by just 0.040sec.

Mercedes will be optimistic that they are getting to grips wth the issue of putting their tyres in the correct operating window that has seen them struggling for performance thus far.

Grand Prix of Spain.

The British driver clearly felt he had exactly the vehicle he needed beneath him but Mercedes managed their team perfectly as well.

"This is when we are going to start applying some pressure", said Hamilton, who has gained 34 points on Vettel in the last three races.

Vettel's stop unleashed Bottas and he set rapid sector times - but a slightly tardy stop two laps later ensured Vettel remained ahead.

Mercedes held firm to their one-stop plan.

"I think regardless, we shouldn't have to ask, "Oh, can you involve us". "Ferrari did the opposite". I expected Red Bull actually today would be faster in qualifying. However, Vettel thinks Mercedes are just getting back to "normal" as opposed to finding massive gains. "Bring on more Mercedes one-twos".

Red Bull drivers Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo were fifth and sixth, respectively. A Virtual Safety Car period to recover Esteban Ocon's stricken Force India saw Vettel pit for a new set of medium tires - as all of the front-runners were using after starting on softs - but dropped him to fourth place on the road. Sauber's Charles Leclerc once again did well to make it to Q2 and finished in 14th place. Kimi Raikkonen was forced to retire his Ferrari with an engine problem on lap 25.

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