Hamilton roars into 97th pole as Mercedes locks the front row

BOITUMELO RANTAO

IN a dramatic qualifying session, world champion Lewis Hamilton scored the 97th pole position of his F1 career – his ninth of the 2020 season and first at the Autodromo Internacional do Algarve in Portugal.

Hamilton finished 10th of a second ahead of teammate Valtteri Bottas ensuring Mercedes its ninth front row lockout of the season and 73rd in F1.

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen will start the race in third, capping a stunning drive after surviving a crash in the earlier session.

Hamilton was happy with his performance but confessed that it was not easy. 

He said: “I can’t tell you how hard that was today – we’ve got a great car, but you have to drive the nuts off it to pull out a lap and Valtteri has just been so quick here this weekend! I’ve been digging and digging and trying to find that extra time. They communicated well with us and gave us the option of what to do at the end – I chose to do three laps to give a chance at beating his time and he chose to do one. 

“I thought that might give me an opportunity and it worked out, getting better and better on the final lap. This is a hardcore circuit, with places where you can’t see where you’re going because you’re just looking at the sky, so there are no references for braking points for example. It’s among the most challenging circuits I’ve been to, especially with this new surface that makes it hard to get the tyres switched on and working on both axles. It’s a big thank you to the team for the work this weekend, and to the fans who were able to come out today – it’s great to see their flags out there on track.”

Bottas, who had provisional pole going to the final qualifying round, was “‘a little disappointed”. “That was a strong session for me until the final run. Based on the feeling from Q2, we decided to go for the medium for the last run, then it was a question of one timed lap or three timed laps of fuel in the car. It’s always a balance: with one lap, you carry less fuel weight but might have a challenge with the warm-up of the tyre; that’s what I went for as it had worked for me in Q2. It has been tricky to get clean laps this weekend and the final one for me was decent but not perfect – that’s the challenge of a track and a surface like this. So of course, it’s a little disappointing not to be on pole after topping the times most of the weekend, but I will be fighting for the win from P2 tomorrow,” he said.

Mercedes boss Toto Wolf pronounced himself happy and is looking forward to an exciting race.

“That was a fantastic qualifying session, coming right down to the very final laps in Q3. We gave both drivers the choice of tyre and run length for the last outing in Q3 – they went for the Medium and Valtteri went for one timed lap, Lewis for three. In the end, it came down to just a tenth of a second between them in a great battle, with Lewis taking pole on his final lap and Valtteri running a little wide in the second sector at Turn 8, until which point he had been slightly ahead on the delta time. In any case, it’s set for an intriguing battle: we don’t have too much information on how the tyres will behave, and both our cars will start on the medium compound; Verstappen on the other hand starts on soft, and has a fresh medium tyre for the race, which will give him some different strategy options. It’s looking like an exciting Grand Prix, especially with some rain showers in the forecast too.”

Verstappen, who has been stuck behind the Mercedes pair of Hamilton and Bottas since the season started, declared himself satisfied to start the race in third.

The Dutch F1 star said: “I’m happy with qualifying, my Q3 lap was pretty decent and third is a good starting position. This weekend we have seen the new tarmac make it quite difficult to get the tyres in the right window, which was the same for everyone, so it was a bit hit and miss but we are not too far behind Mercedes and there’s a lot to play for tomorrow. 

“I think the start is going to be important as I’m on the soft tyre while the others around me are on the medium but nobody has a lot of information about how the tyres are going to hold up. We’ll just feel our way into the race and push hard as always and sometimes a bit of unpredictability from the tyres makes things more interesting. If it is also windy and raining then it will be even more of an unknown but I hope that whatever the conditions we can be in a good position to push Mercedes tomorrow.”

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerq continued with his new-found form, finishing fourth, ahead of Racing Point’s Sergio Perez and Red Bull’s  Alex Albon.

Carlos Sainz won the battle of the McLarens but only just with 0.005s separating him from Lando Norris. The pair will start the race in seventh and eighth positions on the grid.

Pierre Gasly ended up a strong ninth and will start the race ahead of AlphaTauri teammate Daniel Ricciardo who completed the top 10.

Starting Grid:

  1. Hamilton – Mercedes
  2. Bottas – Mercedes
  3. Verstappen – Red Bull
  4. Leclerc – Ferrari
  5. Perez – Racing Point 
  6. Albon – Red Bull
  7. Sainz – Mclaren 
  8. Norris – Mclaren 
  9. Gasly – AlphaTauri
  10. Ricciardo – Renault
  11. Ocon – Renault
  12. Stroll – Racing Point 
  13. Kyvat – AlphaTauri 
  14. Russell – Williams
  15. Vettel – Ferrari 
  16. Raikonnen – Alfa Romeo 
  17. Giovinazzi – Alfa Romeo 
  18. Grosjean – Haas
  19. Magnussen – Haas
  20. Latifi – Williams 
PORTIMAO, PORTUGAL – OCTOBER 24: Third placed qualifier Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing talks in a press conference after qualifying ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Portugal at Autodromo Internacional do Algarve on October 24, 2020 in Portimao, Portugal. Photo by Sam Bloxham – Pool/Getty Images