Lewis Hamilton was sounding relieved to clinch a front row start for this weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
The Mercedes driver was just 0.179s behind the pace of pole sitter Sebastian Vettel at the end of the final round of qualifying in Baku on Saturday.
“That was close. We did the best job we could. It was very, very close,” Hamilton said. “We are in the mix.”
It was certainly a better outcome for Hamilton than he had feared after a lacklustre time on Friday’s two free practice sessions.
“I’m really happy with the job the team did to get us from where we were yesterday to where we are today,” he said.
Hamilton had marginally improved his time with his final run in Q3, but not by enough to depose Vettel from the top spot.
“Sebastian did a good job,” he acknowledged. “Ferrari were quickest all weekend. They’ve obviously got a phenomenal car this year.
“I think I was up three tenths up into turn 15,” he added. “Then I came across the line two tenths up, so I lost a little bit in the last sector.”
He suggested that the weather had been a factor, with gusty winds picking up during the day.
- Vettel takes pole in Baku ahead of Hamilton and Bottas
“Down this straight particularly, it’s hard to keep the car straight,” he explained. “You’re getting crosswinds in between buildings, so you’re constantly correcting the car.
“But the track’s been great today, so I appreciate everyone in Azerbaijan having us,” he added. “And Valtteri also did a great job.”
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Hamilton’s team mate will start from third place, just behind on the second row of the grid tomorrow. It’s Mercedes’ best combined qualifying performance of the 2018 season so far.
“We’re there with both cars now – it’s rarely been happening this season,” Valtteri Bottas said. “At least now we have a good starting point.
“We’re starting very close, and you know the race here can be really crazy, so we’re up for the fight.”
Both drivers insisted that they were now in with a strong chance of beating Vettel in Sunday’s race.
“For sure we can,” said Bottas, who has some experience of what’s possible here. “Last year I was one lap down after lap one and then ended up second, so anything can happen.”
And Hamilton was equally optimistic.
“We are in the mix,” said the Briton. “This is the fifth best track to overtake I think, so that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
“I will try to give Sebastian a hard time tomorrow,” he promised.
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