Lewis Hamilton came close to complete disaster in today’s qualifying session for the 2020 Russian Grand Prix.
Heading into Saturday seemingly assured of a front row lock-out, Hamilton was within seconds of being knocked out at the end of Q2 which would have left him starting tomorrow’s race from 15th on the grid at Sochi.
Hamilton’s first flying lap in the second round was deleted for exceeding track limits, and his second was aborted when Sebastian Vettel crashed and triggered a red flag.
It left Hamilton without a time and just two minutes 15 seconds remaining in the session to get out and start his final push – which he did by the skin of his teeth.
“It was one of the worst qualifying sessions, it was horrible,” Hamilton said in the post-qualifying interviews in parc ferme. “Heart in your mouth the whole way.”
“The first one I had the time taken away obviously,” he explained. “It was the first time I’ve gone wide at the final corner the whole weekend.
“I wanted to stay out to do another lap and get a banker in, but I was told to come in and get new tyres. And then the red flag came out!”
In order to minimise the by-now very real danger of failing to make the cut, Hamilton was forced to switch to a set of new soft tyres instead of the medium compound that he had hopped to start the race on. That will have a significant impact on his race strategy on Sunday.
“It was a real risk once we got out on that next tyre at the end, and ultimately I’m starting on the soft tyre which is not good.”
The final found was rather more straightforward, and Hamilton set a new track record time of 1:31.304s to record his eighth pole in ten races, and his 96th career pole in F1.
But the driver pointed out that Sochi was not a great place to be starting on pole, due to the long run at the start allowing the cars behind to gain the slipstream and attack for the lead into turn 2.
“It’s nice to be on pole but this probably the worst place to be on pole with the draggier cars this year,” Hamilton conceded. “Undoubtedly I’m most likely to get dragged past tomorrow.
He added that because he had been forced to compromise on his tyre strategy, he would be under significant pressure from Max Verstappen and Valteri Bottas on the opening lap.
“Both the cars I’m racing against are on the medium tyres so it will definitely make it hard to win the race,” he said. “But I’m definitely going to stay positive and try and figure out how I can navigate through and get a good start.”
Hamilton also has another challenge before the start of the race, with a visit to the race stewards to discuss his track limit adventures.
If he does win tomorrow’s race, Hamilton will equal the all-time record for victories currently held by Michael Schumacher.
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