Six time Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton says Saturday’s qualifying for Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix at the Sochi circuit was one of the toughest he has faced.

The current championship leader who is on the verge of equalling Michael Schumacher’s win record of 91 victories took pole position from Aston Martin Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen with a time of 01:31.304s.

Hamilton who was not penalised for his turn two incident in Q1 commented saying:

That was one of the toughest Qualifying sessions I can remember, proper heart in your mouth the whole way. But I feel super grateful for everyone keeping their cool as it could have been a lot, lot worse. Q2 was hugely challenging, my first attempt was taken away for going over the track limits at the final corner. The team brought me in for refuelling and to fit new tyres but when I was on my second lap, the red flag came out. After that, it was very close to still get that final lap in – I overtook a few cars in the last sector but then lost time behind a Renault. I just heard Bono say ‘go, go, go’, so I was gunning it to get across the line. There was so much going on and I had to just calm down and find my centre. Valtteri had been strong all weekend, so I had no choice but to deliver with those final Q3 laps. The first lap in the final session was really great, and I thought it would be difficult to improve, but I managed to find a tiny bit on the second lap. It’s nice to take pole position, but this track is probably the worst place to be on pole, due to the long run to the first braking zone. So, I’m expecting a tough fight down to Turn 2 and a challenging race, especially as I’m starting on the Soft tyre, which is a good compound for the race start but is the worst tyre for the opening stint. We’ll sit down tonight and figure out the best approach to the race.

Valtteri Bottas was left disappointed after being pipped for P2 and starts from third but feels it’s all still to play for on Sunday.

Speaking following qualifying the Finn said:

It was looking pretty good for me, I felt like I had the pace through Q1 and Q2, and both of those sessions went nice and smoothly. But Q3 was a tricky one. I felt like I found some gains but clearly the others found more. On the first run in Q3 the tyres were a bit too cold, so out of the last corner I had a big snap and was already a few tenths down on the run to Turn 2. I was waiting for the second run and that lap felt better, there weren’t really any mistakes so I’m not sure why I couldn’t get closer to pole. There are some question marks there, which we’ll need to look into in the debrief and figure out why there was such a gap. But P3 is actually a pretty good place to start here and I think I’m on the right tyre as well. I’ve started third here before and look what happened, so I’ll try and do the same. It’s still all to play for.

Mercedes AMG PETRONAS F1 Team Principal and CEO Toto Wolff comented:

Sometimes, it’s the tracks where we perform well in practice, that prove to be the most difficult in Qualifying and the race. That happened today, with a very challenging Qualifying session. We had a very strong care, but almost stumbled over a red flag. I think we had the racing gods on our side, that we were able to make it into Q3. It’s always impressive how Lewis manages to put it all together, even if adversity is being thrown at him. He did a fantastic job to secure pole position. On Valtteri’s side, we need to investigate what happened, because he had a very strong Friday, but FP3 went against him. The changes he’d made to the car for Qualifying seemed to be right, but then he lost some performance in Q3. The gap doesn’t do him justice, so we need to look into what happened. But we’re looking forward to an exciting race, with both drivers starting on different tyre compounds and a long run to Turn 2. Let’s see how it all plays out.

Mercedes AMG PETRONAS F1 Team chief engineer Andrew Shovlin commented saying:

We had the pace today to get the cars on the front row with both starting on Medium tyres so it’s a bit disappointing to have Lewis starting the race on Soft and Valtteri in third. The wind changed going into Qualifying and it was quite gusty which made it more difficult to put the laps together. The first session wasn’t the cleanest for us, but both cars got through ok. The second session was really where things started to get complicated. Valtteri did a decent first lap on the Medium, but the track was improving quickly, and we had to take a second set to make sure we covered further track evolution. Lewis did a very quick first lap, but ran a bit wide at the final corner so his time was deleted. We didn’t have enough fuel in the car to do another lap, so had no choice but to box. We sent Lewis early on another Medium tyre and he was on a good lap going into the penultimate corner when the red flag came out for Sebastien’s crash, which was simply unfortunate timing. The focus then shifted to just making sure we got Lewis through to Q3: We knew the outlap would be a mess given that there was only two minutes and 15 seconds on the clock, but he was just able to cross the line before the flag and despite traffic, managed to get a lap together. Q3 was a bit more straight forward although Valtteri struggled to get the tyres in the right window and unfortunately got pipped by Max on the final run. Lewis did a couple of really impressive laps, but rather than celebrating another pole position, I think he’ll be thinking that he’d happily swap it for a Medium tyre of the line tomorrow. So, it wasn’t the perfect preparation for tomorrow, but we’ve still got a chance for either of our cars to win and it should make the race very exciting.

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