Lewis Hamilton hails 'great' Chinese GP pole and now aims for first Mercedes win
Dominant Briton surprised by his advantage in Q3
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 13/04/13 2:17pm
The 2008 World Champion completed a clean-sweep of fastest qualifying times during the three-part knockout session in Shanghai to claim his first pole in just his third attempt for Mercedes. The 27th of his career as a whole, it is also just the second for the German manufacturer in its current incarnation.
His final Q3 lap of 1:34.484 was over two tenths faster than nearest rivals Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso could manage and afterwards Hamilton couldn't keep a smile off his face.
"I am incredibly happy," he said. "So happy to have our first pole for some time and I'm just ecstatic really. The lap was great, the team performed well all weekend so far and I really hope we can carry that into tomorrow."
Although Hamilton was ahead after every session in qualifying, he admitted he still was surprised to have breathing space at the front of the timesheet, particularly after the Ferraris had earlier dominated final practice.
He added that claiming pole position was a particular challenge on this occasion owing to the fact Q3 effectively came down to a single-lap shootout as all the top ten runners decided to save as many tyres for Sunday's race as possible.
"Yeah, [the gap was] really surprisingly, because in P3 the Ferraris were very, very quick - didn't know where they would be in qualifying," Hamilton continued.
"But obviously we had really good pace for Q1 and Q2, but that last lap is really difficult to get. Qualifying we have ten minutes [normally] but we left it down to three minutes to go or something like that. Then you've got to get the perfect out lap, the perfect lap to get yourself up there and I really can't complain about the lap. So I'm really happy."
But although grid position, as ever in F1, is important, Sunday's 56-lap race is likely to be decided by which drivers manage their tyres the best across the distance with the softer compound Hamilton and his fellow top runners must now start on set to last less than ten laps.
And with Red Bull having deliberately sacrificed a shot at pole with Sebastian Vettel to ensure they can start on the more durable medium tyres, Hamilton acknowledges translating the pole into victory will be far from straightforward - but nonetheless he isn't ruling out his chances.
"These tyres are very tricky this weekend," the 28-year-old told Sky Sports F1.
"The two closest guys [Raikkonen and Alonso] will be the biggest challenge. The Ferrari is massively quick on the first lap and so is Kimi. And Kimi is particularly very strong with looking after the option tyres so it's going to be very hard to keep them behind.
"After that when we get on to the primes I think we are in a good position but it's just a matter of how much ground we can maintain or try not to lose in the first stint."