Hamilton 'definitely didn't expect' 99th pole at Imola

Pole sitter Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 W12 in qualifying parc ferme. 17.04.2021. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 2, Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, Imola
© XPB 

Lewis Hamilton admitted that he hadn't been expecting to be able to take pole position for the 2021 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix in today's qualifying session in Imola.

Hamilton had been second to his Mercedes team mate Valtteri Bottas in both of Friday's practice sessions, and was third in FP3 behind Red Bull's Max Verstappen and McLaren's Lando Norris.

Hamilton was once again behind Bottas in the first round of qualifying, and then pipped by Verstappen's team mate Sergio Perez and Norris again in Q2, meaning it looked unlikely he would be able to take pole in the final top ten shoot-out.

But his initial effort of 1:14.411s turned out to be unbeatable and enough to secure the reigning world champion his 99th career pole.

"I'm just so happy because the first lap was really, really nice, really clean," Hamilton declared when talking with the media in parc ferme after the end of the session.

"There were some improvements on the second lap but it wasn't quite as good as the first one," he said, adding: "I definitely didn't expect us to be ahead of two Red Bulls.

“I knew going into qualifying and especially that last lap, it was going to take something special,” he added. “The first lap in Q3, I started a tenth up in 2 and 3 and I knew I was onto a good lap, but the second sector I lost a little in Turn 12."

Pole sitter Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 in qualifying parc ferme. 17.04.2021. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 2, Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, Imola

His second run didn't start off so well and he was a tenth down by the time he exited turn 1. "By the time I got to Turn 9 I was a tenth and a half down, but managed to regain that through the middle and the last sector.

"Having those two together would have been the perfect, perfect lap," he added. “It really had to be the most perfect lap and a little bit more to beat the Red Bulls.

"They really have been so fast all weekend, and I didn’t honestly know whether we could do it," he continued. "There were times where they were six tenths ahead and we didn't really know where we would be.

"But [our] car was already feeling a lot better from the beginning this weekend," he added. "I have a huge amount of respect to the team for the hard work [they've put in] to really narrow down the window."

Hamilton accepted that it was becoming increasingly clear the other teams including Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari were a lot closer to matching Mercedes this season - and insisted that he was happy to see a real battle shaping up for this year's title.

"I love it, I love the challenge," he said. "I think it's great finally we've got the two Red Bulls there.

"It's going to definitely make strategy harder," he pointed out. "It's going be a real challenge tomorrow because they have got great race pace. I think their pace was strongest on the long run yesterday."

Hamilton will start tomorrow's race from pole on a set of the medium tyres, giving him more options when it comes to race strategy.

While Verstappen will be on the same compound in third place on the grid, Perez will be sporting a set of faster - but short-lived - soft compound tyres alongside Hamilton on the front row, meaning he could potentially get the jump on the others into the first corner.

While Red Bull could use their drivers in tandem to their advantage, Hamilton will be without immediate support from Bottas after the Finn slumped to a disappointing eighth place in the final round of qualifying.

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