Lewis Hamilton came within 0.038s of snatching pole from local hero Max Verstappen at the climax of a tense qualifying session for the Dutch Grand Prix at Circuit Zandvoort.
Verstappen had been the hot favourite to take pole after ending the earlier final practice session with a half second advantage over the rest of the field, but Hamilton almost stole it at the last minute.
“Max did an amazing lap, and I was so close!” Hamilton commented when talking with the media in parc ferme after the end of the session. “He did a fantastic lap and deserves the pole.
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“I was trying to catch him,” he continued, pointing out that missing most of Friday afternoon’s practice had left him on the back foot coming into today’s qualifying.
“Obviously, with yesterday’s session missed made it a little bit difficult today, but I gave it absolutely everything.”
Securing a front row spot alongside Verstappen for the start of Sunday’s race gives Hamilton a strong chance of beating his rival in the run down to the first corner and over the first lap.
“Strategy will obviously come into it a lot,” he agreed. “It is going to be tough. It’s a difficult circuit to overtake, but what a place for us to be racing.
“What an amazing venue, what an amazing track. I really do genuinely love coming to this country,” he said, despite the overwhelming crowd support understandably going to Verstappen.
“I just want to say a big, big thank you to all the orange fans here, you know, the Dutch fans,” he said. “I really appreciate the welcome. There’s great sporting fans here and I love that, it’s just been good. I really appreciate it.”
Hamilton does have one advantage over Verstappen in tomorrow’s race. His team mate Valtteri Bottas will line up in third place on the grid, while the second Red Bull will be a distant 16th on the grid after a disappointing qualifying for Sergio Perez.
“We’re P2 and P3, that’s a good starting point,” said Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff. “In the race it’s going be about survival on a one-stop. Max needs to make a decision, is he going for a one-stop or is he going for two?
“We can play both strategies tomorrow,” he continued. “We’ve seen that two cars that can actually go totally different and suddenly we’ll be pitting one, undercutting, massive pressure leaving the other out, and then finishing one-two!”
However Wolff was mindful that the presence of Pierre Gasly in a Honda-powered AlphaTauri alongside Bottas had to be considered. “Yeah they have Gasly, so they have a shadow car,” he agreed.
Most of all, Mercedes are hoping for a clean race tomorrow without the first lap controversies seen at the Hungaroring and Silverstone.
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“I hope we have a great race,” he said. “I think if something were to happen tomorrow, even if we’re not at fault, they [the Dutch fans] would be firing those orange flares at us!”
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