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Lewis Hamilton eyes win at Spanish GP after 'beautiful' third in qualifying

"I am going into [the race] to try and win.... we are in a beautiful spot," says Lewis Hamilton after qualifying season-best third in Mercedes' latest sign of progress; watch the Spanish Grand Prix at 2pm, with build-up from 12.30pm, live on Sky Sports F1 on Sunday

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Lewis Hamilton reflects on a successful qualifying session after securing P3 at the Spanish Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton said Mercedes' return to contending at the front of the F1 grid had been a "long time coming" after they locked out the second row at the Spanish Grand Prix and he delivered the best qualifying result of his disappointing season.

The seven-time world champion will start inside the top four for the first time in 15 races and is not ruling out what would be a first race win since December 2021.

Hamilton qualified in what he termed a "beautiful" third position, directly behind polesitter Lando Norris and second-placed Max Verstappen, for the long run down to the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya's first corner of Sunday's 2pm race.

He also out-qualified team-mate George Russell - who claimed pole last time out in Canada in the first significant example of a belated Mercedes renaissance - for just the second time this season. With Hamilton 0.002s faster than the younger Briton, they start a race in the top four together for the first time since last October's Qatar Grand Prix.

"It has been a long time coming for us as a team," an encouraged Hamilton told Sky Sports F1.

"For us to be in this position where we get a third and a fourth and are starting to be more consistent in that realm is huge.

"Really big huge thanks to everybody back in the factory because it really is down to everyone there who have put the extra hours in to bring upgrades, bring new parts, keep refreshing them.

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"To be designing and really assisting in moving this car in the right direction. It is getting more and more enjoyable to drive as a race car."

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George Russell was unhappy with team-mate Lewis Hamilton's pace during qualifying at the Spanish Grand Prix

Hamilton, who had topped Q1 after a second run on new tyres and then finished second-quickest Q2, was within 0.2s of Verstappen and Norris after the first laps of the pole-deciding Q3 but the gap grew to 0.318s on the final run.

Still, the Briton reckons that Mercedes' real deficit was actually half that amount had everything gone perfectly and is therefore remaining full optimism for a race when tyre wear and management is set to be key in deciding the outcome.

"We are not very far away. I think three tenths, I think the real gap is about a tenth and a half maybe," he added.

"I think Max is particularly fast on long runs, I think their car is still ahead, as is probably Lando's. However, I am going into tomorrow to try and win.

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"We are in a beautiful spot. P3 is a good position to start with.

"I think the long run wasn't looking bad so I hope that translates. I think the start needs to be a shake and bake with Lando maybe.

"I am just going to remain optimistic."

Speaking in the earlier post-qualifying press conference, Hamilton did accept that fighting for the win "would be very difficult" but suggested the fact that Mercedes have both their cars in the top four could prove strategically advantageous in a race that is set to feature two pit stops per car.

Oscar Piastri, Norris' McLaren team-mate, is ninth while an-out-of-form Perez starts 11th in the second Red Bull.

"There's two of us, so hopefully we can apply pressure as a team to both of the cars ahead in order to maybe play out something in strategy and slowly climb up," said Hamilton.

"I think it's all about degradation and how you look after the tyres, so we won't know until we get into that first run."

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Highlights of qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix

Russell declares: We have the pace to fight for win

Russell, meanwhile, admitted the final three-tenths deficit to the front row was "probably a little but bigger than we expected" after the promise of the weekend's earlier sessions.

"I think we believed (we could challenge for pole), the car has been feeling great, and historically we have gone well here in Barcelona," he said.

"I think the gap to Lando and Max was probably a little bit bigger than we expected.

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"I don't think Lewis and I put the perfect lap together, we did good laps, but on a challenging track like this, you have to put the tyres in the right window and just find those last couple of tenths and that is what Lando managed to do and we didn't.

"P3 and P4 is a really great place to fight."

And on their victory prospects, Russell - whose quest to win from pole in Canada was undone by mistakes in changeable conditions, declared: "I think we do have the pace to fight with Max and Lando for victory."

Sky Sports F1's live Spanish GP schedule

Spanish GP

Sunday June 23
7.45am: F1 Academy Race 2
9am: F3 Feature Race
10.30am: F2 Feature Race
12:30pm: Grand Prix Sunday: Spanish GP build-up
4pm: Chequered Flag: Spanish GP reaction

Formula 1 heads back to Europe as the championship moves on to Barcelona for the Spanish Grand Prix and the start of a triple-header. Watch every session at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya this weekend, live on Sky Sports F1. Stream every F1 race and more with a NOW Sports Month Membership - No contract, cancel anytime

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