Lewis Hamilton says he’s needing to perform at his best in order to beat Red Bull after securing pole position for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix by a tiny margin.
Red Bull took pole in Bahrain courtesy of Max Verstappen and again looked quick at Imola, but Hamilton put his Mercedes on provisional pole with the first runs in Q3. While both Red Bull drivers improved on their final laps, Hamilton held on by 0.035s from Sergio Perez and less than 0.1s from Verstappen.
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“We knew in Bahrain that it was going to be close and it is going to be close throughout the season,” Hamilton said. “It’s going to take laps like that — it’s going to take us as a team performing as close to perfection as possible, not leaving any stone unturned. I know that’s kind of the idea going to most weekends but we can’t afford any slip-ups.
“I think so far, we’ve really been firing on all cylinders. We still are hunting, believe it or not. I think today was just really fortunate. As Sergio was saying, it wasn’t the perfect lap for him but for all of us, we all operate at such a high level, the differences are milliseconds between us all. We could all go back and look at our data and say we can go faster but at the end of the day it’s what you do at that one moment that counts. That’s what we are trying to focus on.
“I am just amazed at how close it is and how exciting that is. 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.
“Really grateful to the team. We came here, the car was feeling better already from the first lap out and I think that’s probably track dependent. Really good steps forward — just one step at a time all weekend and fantastic work from everyone.”
Citing the cooler conditions as something that meant Mercedes wasn’t struggling with overheating tires as much compared to Red Bull in Imola, Hamilton also attributes the close fight to incremental improvements throughout the weekend.
“Once we finished P3, we had that gap to the Red Bulls. I couldn’t go six-tenths faster but we just kept our heads down and worked on tweaking the car going into qualifying.
“Generally very, very smooth, great strategy in terms of getting us out in clean air on all of our runs. I managed to do my time on the medium and I got to have a practice run on the softs. Then I knew going into qualifying, particularly that last lap was going to take something special — really had to be the most perfect lap that I could do, a little bit more in order to beat the Red Bulls.
“They really have been so fast all weekend. I didn’t honestly know whether we could do it or not but, the first lap for example in Q3, started a tenth up out of Turn 1 and 2 and I knew that I was onto a good lap. I think in the second sector, I lost a little bit in Turn 12.
“The second time around, I came out of Turn 1 and 2 a tenth down, by the time I got to Turn 9 was a tenth and half down but managed to regain that through the middle and the last sector. Having those two together I think would have been the perfect, perfect lap but I am honestly so happy with that lap, the first lap was where it counted. Grateful for it.”
With Valtteri Bottas qualifying eighth, Hamilton admits Red Bull — with two drivers starting on different compounds — has the advantage of strategic options heading into the race.
“It’s much different from the past experiences. I can’t remember the last time we’ve seen the two Red Bulls so close. I think tomorrow, of course, if we’re able to get off in order, then they have a bit of a better set of cars in terms of strategy. That doesn’t mean we can’t pull out something unique and do something different.
“I am not really sure what happened with Valtteri — it’s really hard to overtake here so I probably won’t have the support of him early on. Nevertheless, maybe he will make it though but otherwise, we just need to focus on our job and try to do absolutely everything and more to keep these guys behind.”