Mercedes confirmed the superior pace they had shown in practice by claiming another front-row lock out, with Valtteri Bottas coming out on top of team mate Lewis Hamilton by a big margin in qualifying for the 2019 Spanish Grand Prix.
Hamilton had been on pole four times here in the past, including the last three races at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. However Bottas brought that run to an emphatic finish with a new track record of 1:15.406, 0.634s faster than the Briton, to record his own third pole in a row in 2019.
Ferrari seemed to have little response to the Mercedes supremacy, Sebastian Vettel having to settle for third ahead of Red Bull's Max Verstappen. Charles Leclerc struggled to fifth place, which puts him alongside Pierre Gasly on Sunday's grid.
Haas confirmed their status as 'best of the rest' with Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen in seventh and eighth respectively. McLaren narrowly failed to get either driver through to Q3, while Renault saw Nico Hulkenberg eliminated early after an incident in Q1.
The slight threat of rain at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya that had hung over final practice had disappeared over the horizon by the start of the session, and conditions on Saturday afternoon were looking brighter with the sun finally breaking through the clouds overhead. Track temperatures were heating up nicely despite the gusty winds, but drivers still had to be careful not to be caught out in the same way Valtteri Bottas and George Russell had been in FP3.
Q1: Bottas back on top; Hulkenberg drops out after early lock-up
First into action was Robert Kubica. Normally he would be accompanied by his Williams team mate, but the team was still working on George Russell's car after his spin at turn 4 at the end of FP3. The Briton did get out on track a few minutes later but promptly had another minor spin this time at turn 13 to further knock his confidence, even though no harm was done to the FW42. In any case, Russell knew that he would be starting at the back after incurring a penalty for replacing his gearbox over lunch.
Nico Hulkenberg was less fortunate with his own early mishap when he locked up going into turn 4 and ploughed into the gravel, knocking the Renault's front wing off against the barrier before finally coming to a halt. He limped back to pit lane without triggering a red flag, but scattered gravel and bits of bodywork along the way as he did so.
Meanwhile both Ferraris had moved into action on soft tyres, Charles Leclerc initially getting the upper hand over Sebastian Vettel with a lap of 1:17.727s. However both men from Maranello were convincingly outpaced by Max Verstappen's first effort in the Red Bull which was half a second faster still.
Valtteri Bottas's first run was slightly quicker still, but only by 0.069s. In the second Mercedes, Lewis Hamilton wasn't able to catch either Bottas or Verstappen and slotted into third. He was swiftly demoted another spot by an improved second effort from Leclerc, only to win it back again on a later run.
Haas continued to feature strongly with Kevin Magnussen in sixth ahead of Red Bull's Pierre Gasly and Toro Rosso's Daniil Kvyat. The Dane's team mate Romain Grosjean was also in the running in ninth, with Alexander Albon rounding out the top ten. At the other end of the timesheets it was Alfa Romeo's Antonio Giovinazzi and Kimi Raikkonen under pressure to avoid elimination along with the two Williams drivers.
Hulkenberg was back on track after hasty repairs which left him compromised with an old-spec front wing, and his delayed first effort was good enough for 15th which pushed Racing Point's Sergio Perez into the drop zone. Perez rallied to get himself to safety, and Raikkonen also scrambled to safety, which meant that Hulkenberg ended up being knocked out along with Lance Stroll in the second Racing Point car. Giovinazzi never seemed to find any speed in the session and retired to the sidelines along with Russell and Kubica.
There had been no change among the top five, but impressive late runs from McLaren put Lando Norris into sixth and Carlos Sainz eighth to bracket Magnussen. Albon also found more speed to put him ahead of Gasly, pushing Kvyat and Grosjean out of the top ten by the time the chequered flag came out.
Q2: Mercedes far ahead, Leclerc has to scramble after running wide
There was a slight pause at the start of Q2 before drivers took to the track, with both Mercedes and Ferraris coming out on fresh sets of soft tyres and running in surprisingly close proximity. The two Silver Arrows emerged from this early face-off with Hamilton setting a new track record with a time of 1:16.038s, more than two tenths quicker than Bottas' effort which itself had four tenths in hand over Vettel.
However Leclerc had ran wide during his flying lap, bouncing over the kerbs in turn 9 which dropped him a long way back and sent some bodywork from the underside of the SF90 flying. It gave Verstappen, Gasly and Grosjean the space to slip into fourth, fifth and sixth respectively in the early standings, and meant the Monegasque certainly couldn't feel safe about progressing to Q3 without making another run.
In fact even the two Mercedes drivers opted to head out again, leaving just Vettel and Verstappen resting on their laurels in the garage as the end of Q2 approached. Bottas duly pipped Hamilton to to the top spot to lay down a marker for the pole shoot-out round, while Leclerc consolidated a transfer spot with a better second effort putting him in fourth ahead of Verstappen and Gasly.
Norris briefly got himself into seventh place, but improved laps by Grosjean, Kvyat, Magnussen and Renault's Daniel Ricciardo bundled him straight back out and left him the first of the five drivers eliminated from qualifying, along with Albon, Sainz, Raikkonen and Perez.
Q3: Bottas blasts Hamilton and the rest away to take Barcelona pole
Aware that he had to find something extra to see off the threat from his team mate, Hamilton was first to spring into action in the final top ten round. After a very slow out-lap, he laid down a challenge of 1:16.040s. However that wasn't nearly good enough to seal the deal, and Bottas immediately sliced more than six tenths off with a hugely impressive effort.
Vettel and Verstappen weren't able to match that sort of pace, and slotted into third and fourth respectively. Gasly continued his strong session by taking up a provisional fifth place ahead of the Haas duo of Grosjean and Magnussen, with Kvyat and Ricciardo taking the remaining positions. Significantly Leclerc didn't come out to make a first run, as Ferrari engineers continued to check over his wounded car to make sure there was nothing too seriously amiss.
When he did finally come out to play with five minutes remaining on the clock, Leclerc temporarily had the track all to himself. Even so, he was over a second off the pace of the provisional polesitter with a lap only good enough for fifth behind Verstappen. By the time he concluded his push, the rest of the cars were streaming off pit lane to make the place suddenly very crowded once more.
In fact no one was able to improve in the final minutes, and Bottas secured his third pole position in a row over Hamilton, with Vettel and Verstappen consigned ot the second rank of the grid ahead of their respective team mates Leclerc and Gasly. Haas locked out the fourth row with Grosjean edging out Magnussen, while Kvyat finished ahead of Ricciardo.