By James Galloway
Lewis Hamilton admitted Saturday’s Portuguese GP qualifying hour would not feature among his finest, with the world champion made to wait at least seven more days for a landmark 100th F1 pole position by team-mate Valtteri Bottas.
Despite actually setting the fastest lap of the whole qualifying hour, Hamilton’s best effort of 1:17.968 was achieved in Q2 on medium tyres rather than the pole-deciding Q3, when he lapped 0.4s slower on theoretically quicker soft tyres to miss out to Bottas by a minuscule margin of 0.007s.
Tricky track conditions at Portimao meant drivers struggled for consistency across the session and Hamilton was not immune.
“There was honestly so much time available and just didn’t put it together,” said Hamilton to Sky Sports F1.
“It’s really tricky conditions here. The surface of the track is very smooth and not a lot of grip, and with the tyres you need extra laps to get the temperatures even though it’s a really nice day.
“One minute you have grip and the next minute you don’t. It’s just tricky for everyone.”
Although outqualified by Bottas for the first time this season, Hamilton was pleased to help secure a front-row lockout for Mercedes and is one place ahead of nearest title rival Max Verstappen after an up-and-down day for Red Bull.
Asked if he was surprised by their near-0.4s gap to Mercedes’ chief rivals, Hamilton replied: “I haven’t seen it but I didn’t understand why they were further down earlier on in the session.
“This qualifying session probably goes at the bottom of my qualifying sessions over time.”
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Hamilton also said immediately after the session: “Great job by Valtteri and a great job by our team. For us to be on the front row is definitely not expected, so we’ve got to be happy with that.”
As for the race, Hamilton added: “You go all in. It’s going to probably be a close battle between the three of us and we’ll try and get as close as Valtteri as I can off the start.”
The seven-time champion, who claimed a record-breaking 92nd career win on F1’s first visit to Portimao last October, will aim for his second win of the season on Sunday to maintain his championship lead over Verstappen.
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