Lewis Hamilton still feeling after-effects of coronavirus, qualifies third at Abu Dhabi GP
F1's returning seven-time world champion to start from third for Sunday's Abu Dhabi GP after narrowly losing out in three-way pole fight, but vows to put up strong fight in race; Lewis Hamilton says he still has "some feeling within my lung" after coronavirus
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 13/12/20 4:19pm
Lewis Hamilton said it was "not the usual me" after he narrowly lost out to Red Bull's Max Verstappen and team-mate Valtteri Bottas in the battle for Abu Dhabi GP pole position, as he "struggled" with his Mercedes car in qualifying on his return from coronavirus.
Hamilton will start from third on the grid behind his two perennial rivals for Sunday's 2020 finale after an incredibly-close final battle for pole position in Q3. Polesitter Verstappen - claiming Red Bull's first Saturday success of the year - second-placed Bottas and third-placed Hamilton were separated by less than a tenth of a second.
The seven-time champion returned to his Mercedes car on Friday after missing last week's Sakhir GP due to Covid-19. After qualifying, Hamilton said he was "not 100 per cent" fit yet compared to when he last raced two weeks ago in Bahrain's first race - but would give it his all on Sunday.
"Today was definitely hard. Actually, I think yesterday and today have both been a couple of the hardest days I've had probably in the car this year," Hamilton told Sky Sports F1.
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"I gave it everything I could, it was just not the perfect laps and not the usual me.
"I struggled with the car but I gave it everything I've got and it's close between us all. It's not miles of at least. I know there's work to do tomorrow and there's lots of opportunity."
I wasn’t sure I’d be here this weekend. I focused on healing my body as fast as I could and feel so grateful to have made it. @Max33Verstappen did a great job, as did @ValtteriBottas, and it’s great to see McLaren so close. I will give it my all tomorrow 🙏🏾 pic.twitter.com/V6FCNAsM1Z— Lewis Hamilton (@LewisHamilton) December 12, 2020
Speaking in the post-qualifying press conference, Hamilton said he was still feeling the after-effects of Covid-19.
"I am not 100 per cent, I still have some feeling within my lungs," said the world champion.
"Normally, I would drive even if one of my arms was hanging off. That's what we do as racing drivers and luckily that's not the case."
After returning a positive test on November 30 the day after winning the Bahrain GP, Hamilton spent 10 days in isolation in his hotel room, a period which ended on Thursday. He first posted a negative test in Bahrain on Wednesday.
Hamilton 'still in the fight' for victory from row two
Hamilton's qualifying session began on the back foot when he sustained what he described as a "little bit" of damage to his Mercedes by running wide on his first hot lap of Q1, with the effort soon deleted for a track limits infringement.
"Usually my laps are super clean and I generally didn't have one clean lap through qualifying," conceded Hamilton.
Although he topped both Q1, albeit with a required second run, and Q2, Hamilton immediately fell behind Bottas and Verstappen in the Q3 shootout.
"It's a bit of rhythm and I have generally struggled with the balance of the car all day," explained the Briton.
"I made quite a lot of big changes throughout the weekend and I went back on some of them and it wasn't the right decision at the end of the day but hopefully for the race it'll be fine.
"It's going to be tough to beat these guys tomorrow but I'm excited to be in there and in the fight."
Already having clinched his seventh world championship at a canter last month, Hamilton will aim for a 12th victory of the season - which would represent a personal-best campaign - in Sunday's race from 1.10pm live on Sky Sports F1.