Story of qualifying: Mercedes back on top at F1's aero track

Esteban Ocon's Spain simulation (0:54)

Force India's Esteban Ocon reveals his love of racing simulators as he takes on a virtual lap of the Spanish Grand Prix. (0:54)

Normal service was resumed at the Spanish Grand Prix as Mercedes locked out the front row at Barcelona, but it was still an intriguing session.

Shock: That so many drivers didn't set their fastest time on the super-soft tyre. Usually tyre choice for Q3 is simple: go for the softest compound to get the most grip. But in Spain, both Ferraris, Daniel Ricciardo and Fernando Alonso set their fastest time on the soft compound (the second fastest on offer in Barcelona). It's also worth noting that all of the top ten apart from Alonso set their fastest Q2 time on the soft, meaning they will start the race on that tyre and aim for a one-stop strategy. For an explanation of why so many drivers struggled on the super-soft tyre, click here.

Shocker: Brendon Hartley's huge shunt in final practice meant he wasn't able to start qualifying. The New Zealander, who is coming under increasing pressure in his first full season in F1, lost control of his Toro Rosso when he dipped two wheels on the grass on the entrance to the high-speed Turn 9. Such was the impact with the barriers that the gearbox snapped off when the car was lifted from the gravel trap and there was no chance of getting the car rebuilt in the two hours between the end of final practice and the start of Q1.

As you were: Mercedes took its first pole position since the season-opener in Melbourne. The return to a track where efficient aerodynamics are king could be part of the reason, but once again it was the tyres that seemed to be the main factor. Unusually, Mercedes seemed to cope better than Ferrari on Pirelli's softest compound, but that may have been a result of the cooler temperatures in qualifying. On Friday Mercedes also looked like the faster car over long runs, holding a 0.9s per lap advantage over Ferrari and 0.6s over Red Bull.

Most improved: Mercedes may have broken Ferrari's run of consecutive pole positions, but Alonso qualifying eighth is arguably the most obvious change from previous rounds. The upgrades on the McLaren are clear to see and he was just 0.045s off taking the "best of the rest" award (also known as seventh on the grid) from Kevin Magnussen in the Haas. However, the gap to pole position was still over 1.6s, underlining the task facing McLaren to return to the very front.

New track record: Lewis Hamilton's pole position lap was three seconds faster than last year's pole. That's largely down to the tyres being two steps softer than in 2017, but also a reflection of the relentless development race in F1 -- Hamilton's time was also a second quicker than the best lap in winter testing. The new record of 1:16.173 may go unbeaten for several years as 2019's regulation changes are expected to make the cars 1.5s slower.

First corner prediction: With Mercedes locking out the front row, Hamilton is the favourite tp lead the pack through Turn 1 but keep an eye out for Sebastian Vettel starting from the clean side of the grid behind the lead Mercedes. Alonso often starts well in Spain, and as the only driver on super-softs he should get a better launch from the line than the rest of the top ten. If he gets among the top five on the first lap, expect the local crowd to go wild.

Driver of the day: Following his recent struggles, Hamilton held it all together to take pole position by 0.040s from teammate Bottas. It was only a small margin but it makes a massive difference on a track that is so difficult to overtake on.