“My tally’s not gone up like normal but it’s been really hard with this car. So very happy with the qualifying session,” says Lewis Hamilton after dominating the Saturday battle to end his four-month pole wait; Briton ahead of Max Verstappen on front row for Sunday’s race at 2pm on Sky F1
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 20/11/21 4:29pm
Lewis Hamilton explained how he delivered his “beautiful” and “special” pole position lap for the Qatar GP after feeling unwell and struggling for pace at the start of the weekend, in a performance that could act as a big statement in his title duel with Max Verstappen.
On a weekend when the off-track tension between Mercedes and Red Bull has been ratcheted up to arguably its highest level of a gripping season, the reigning champions have continued to enjoy a sizeable performance edge on the track similar to last week in Brazil.
Mercedes have topped every session at the Losail International Circuit since opening practice and, although it was Valtteri Bottas who was the quicker of their two drivers up to qualifying, Hamilton stepped forward when it mattered most and was in a class of his own under the lights on Saturday evening.
His advantage over second-fastest Verstappen, who leads the championship by 14 points, was a whopping four-and-a-half tenths of a second.
“Yesterday was a really difficult day for me actually. Thursday and Friday I wasn’t feeling too well and so really struggled throughout practice,” said the seven-time world champion.
“I was just off yesterday so really had to dig deep.
“I was here until midnight last night working with the engineers, who also always work so late, they’re such hard workers, and found a lot of areas which I could improve.
“Made a lot of changes for P3 and it seemed to work. Then of course you’ve got to carry that through to qualifying, but I’m so grateful for the timings they put us out on track, we didn’t have any traffic.
“Then that last lap was beautiful. It was a really sweet lap.”
Verstappen still split the Mercedes drivers to secure yet another strong starting berth for Sunday’s race, but it is the first time since the Spanish GP in May that Hamilton has been the one ahead on the front row.
Although Hamilton had topped two of the previous four F1 qualifying sessions, neither counted as an official pole position in the record books.
The Briton took a grid drop in Turkey, while it was the result of the Saturday sprint last time out at Interlagos that counted for the Sunday grid and pole position.
Qatar is therefore Hamilton’s first pole since July’s Hungarian GP, nine races ago, and just his fourth in 20 events this season. Verstappen, by contrast, has nine.
“My tally has not gone up like normal but it’s been really hard with this car,” said Hamilton, who extends his F1 record to 102 poles.
“Probably one of the hardest cars to get in the sweet spot, also with the tyres. But collectively we have done a really great job to extract even more from the car in the last couple of races.
“My laps were really very clean, so mistakes, and the last one was really pretty special. So very happy with the qualifying session.”