Lewis Hamilton paid glowing tribute to his McLaren-Mercedes team and car after the reigning F1 World Champion led a Silver Arrows front row lock-out in qualifying for the European Grand Prix in Valencia – suggesting that they 'haven't seen this level of performance for a long time'.
Quick throughout practice around the Valencia Street Circuit under the baking Spanish sun, Hamilton kept his powder dry during the truncated third free practice session on Saturday morning – lapping just eighth-quickest – but effusive about the balance of his car, it was clear that the British star was going to be a contender.
A comfortable second-fastest in both Q1 and Q2 courtesy of only a single run in each, a searing opening salvo in Q3 put the Stevenage-born ace on top of the pile by the gaping margin of 1.3 seconds, and though his rivals would close the gap – to less than a tenth in the end – they could not topple him, despite a couple of brief off-track moments for the ten-time grand prix-winner. Team-mate Heikki Kovalainen looked to be on-course to snatch Hamilton's thunder in the very dying moments of Q3, but a late mistake preserved the status quo
as it was.
“After winning in Hungary, we came here not knowing whether we would have the same pace or if the others would have made a step forward and closed the gap,” confessed the 24-year-old after clinching his 14th career F1 pole position. “Clearly, we're still competitive. We haven't seen this level of performance for a long time. Last year, I was able to do only one run in an easy qualifying session but, this year, we've had to go in all guns blazing and use up every minute and every second of the qualifying session.
“I'm really happy with the balance – the car feels great, particularly in the slower corners and I managed a couple of very good laps today. We'll start the race from a very competitive position – but a lot will depend on strategy and how the start goes. Congratulations to Heikki – he did a fantastic job. It's been very close between us all weekend, so this is great to see. We've got the front row to ourselves – and that's something we've all wanted for a very long time...”
Indeed, such a scenario has not occurred since the 2008 Hungarian Grand Prix more than a year ago, and the belated repetition after a largely torrid season delighted the Woking-based outfit's team principal Martin Whitmarsh, who was quick to praise his drivers for having fulfilled their brief to absolute perfection. And with KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) to help them get away from the line, on Sunday they could just prove to be unbeatable...
“A truly brilliant result for the entire team,” enthused the Englishman. “Well done, everyone! As for Lewis and Heikki, well, they were both brilliant too. They made things look relatively easy, but in fact the conditions out there today were very difficult for all the drivers – it was hot and humid, and the circuit is an extremely demanding one. Lewis did a fantastic job, and I'm sure both our drivers will perform very well in tomorrow's race.”
“A great result,” concurred Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Vice-President Norbert Haug. “Nobody has had fewer laps over the weekend so far, and nobody was faster than Lewis today. The lap time from his first outing in Q3 was strong enough that he could afford to abort his second attempt after two quicker sector times in order to save fuel for the race – a truly great job from Lewis. Every one of us got the best reward today with this 'double pole', and tomorrow the reward could be even better.”