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Formula 1

Hamilton explains Mercedes’ stunned reaction to Imola pole

by Matt Beer
3 min read

Lewis Hamilton’s 99th Formula 1 career pole position prompted an unusually shocked reaction from both the world champion and his Mercedes team.

Hamilton was out of Acque Minerale on his in-lap before he even knew he had pole position for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, exchanging surprise with his stunned race engineer Peter Bonnington.

Bonnington: That’s it mate! That is it…wow. Look at the time.
Hamilton: We got it?!
Bonnington: We got it mate! Beautiful work!
Hamilton: Woo! Oh…wow! Whoa!
Bonnington: That’s a surprise isn’t it?

Hamilton had been over half a second adrift of Max Verstappen’s FP3-topping time on Saturday morning at Imola, but he ended up taking pole position by just 0.035 seconds a couple of hours later.

The seven-time champion’s closest competitor proved to be Verstappen’s Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez, who lamented a final corner error for costing him his maiden F1 pole.

Hamilton admitted he had ended practice feeling it would take something “special” for Mercedes to beat the Red Bull duo.

Lewis Hamilton Mercedes Imola F1 2021

“Once we finished FP3, we had that gap to the Red Bulls, and I [knew I] couldn’t go six tenths faster, but we just kept our heads down,” Hamilton said after securing pole.

“I knew going into qualifying and particularly that last lap, it was going to take something special, it really had to be the most perfect lap that I could do – and a little bit more – in order to beat the Red Bulls.

“It was a real surprise, the team definitely did not expect to be on pole today, but of course that’s what I was gunning for.

“It really was the tidiest lap that I could put together, and a little bit more.”

Mercedes went into the 2021 season expecting to be on the back foot compared to Red Bull having struggled in testing, though it overturned its rival’s superior speed to win the opener in Bahrain.

Hamilton underlined that he was relishing the closer competition between Mercedes and Red Bull and he admitted that his car felt far better from the very first lap at Imola, compared to how it felt at Sakhir.

“I’m just amazed at how close it is and how exciting that was,” he added. “It really adds to the fire and to the adrenaline rush.

“I didn’t know whether or not these guys had improved on that last lap for quite some time so I was definitely nervous and that’s the excitement of closer racing.

Lewis Hamilton Max Verstappen Imola 2021

“I’m really grateful to the team. As we came here, the car was feeling better already from the first lap out and I think that’s probably track-dependent.

“But a really good step forward, just one step at a time all weekend, and fantastic work from everyone.”

Hamilton believes this year’s Mercedes operates more on a “knife-edge” compared to some of its predecessors and finding the right balance in the car was crucial to Mercedes’ improvement from Bahrain to Imola.

“In Bahrain, the temperatures are a lot different,” Hamilton said.

“The track surface is a lot different. In Bahrain, we always struggle with overheating and a lot of crosswinds.

“We don’t seem to have that here and it’s much cooler so we’re very rarely over the temperature of the tyres. So that’s kind of brought us more in line with the Red Bulls.

“It’s really focusing on balance, we’re finding the balance is a very narrow window of tyres operating at the best and also our car is more on the knife-edge, I would say, than in previous years.”

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