Having produced arguably the qualifying lap of the session in Istanbul to split the two Red Bull Racing entries of Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel on the starting grid for this weekend's Turkish Grand Prix, McLaren-Mercedes star Lewis Hamilton has vowed to adopt a 'sensible' approach at the start of the race – and then 'apply maximum pressure'.
Nobody had given much hope of anyone getting to within touching distance of the two RBRs given their searing one-lap pace thus far this season, but Hamilton clearly begged to differ, and after safely progressing through Q1 and Q2 in Turkey – around a circuit at which he has only once previously finished up on the podium in the top flight – the 2008 F1 World Champion impressively took the fight to Webber and Vettel, and though not quite able to pip the former, he gladly took advantage of the latter's braking woes to pinch second place. And now he'd like to go one spot better again on race day.
“In terms of finding a good balance and getting a clear lap, today was one of the best qualifying sessions I've had all year,” enthused the 25-year-old. “My lap was as close to perfect as I could possibly get it, but we're still nearly four tenths down in the middle sector. Compared with Barcelona, I don't think we've made a huge step, but we're making small steps forward to close the gap to the front.
“Tomorrow, I'm going to do everything I can to get a sensible start, get round the first corner and then challenge Mark, if I can. I'm on the dirtier side of the track, so that may make it a bit harder for me, and the Red Bulls still have a performance advantage over us, even if it doesn't show from today's times – but we're going to catch them and then, hopefully, you'll see Jenson [Button] and me up there, with the Red Bulls trying to split us.
“We've got to keep pushing; the guys back at the factory are doing an incredible job, even though they're under immense pressure. We all want to win, we're taking nothing for granted and we're edging closer all the time. I really do believe we're the best team out there and, once we make that next step, I'm sure we can move ahead of everyone – but until then, all we can do is to be as close as we can and apply maximum pressure, and that's exactly what we'll be doing tomorrow.”
Team-mate Button, for his part, actually outpaced Hamilton in Q1, but fell to just over three tenths of a second adrift of his title-winning predecessor when it really mattered as he found his final run hampered by yellow flags for the spinning Mercedes Grand Prix of Michael Schumacher. He will consequently line up directly behind his countryman when the starting lights go out on Sunday in P4.
“Fourth is not too bad, but the final run was a bit frustrating,” rued the 30-year-old erstwhile world championship leader. “Being the last car on the circuit can be a good thing, because it means you have the cleanest track, but there's obviously more chance of somebody going off and that's what happened with Michael, who was ahead of me on my final lap – and when there's a yellow flag, you've obviously got to back out of it. I came straight back to the pits, because my final run clearly wasn't going to be any quicker due to that. The lap wasn't perfect, but it's still pretty good to be fourth. We're on the dirty side of the track, but we'll see what we can do from there.
“The only performance issue I've really had all weekend is through Turn Eight; I was losing three tenths to Lewis there because we were running the car too low. That was my fault – I wanted to run the car low for the rest of the circuit – but it's just a little bit too low through Turn Eight. Obviously, the car will be heavier at the start of the race tomorrow, but we'll be going slower, so it won't be pushed onto the track as much. We've got to hope that will help. Nevertheless, we seem to be closer to the Red Bulls than I expected this weekend, so that's a positive, and I reckon we can challenge them in the race.”
“Both our drivers have performed really well so far this weekend, yesterday as well as today,” summarised the Woking-based outfit's team principal Martin Whitmarsh. “They've quietly got on with the job in-hand, and today they both drove excellent qualifying laps despite the fact that our cars lacked a little bit of pace in the all-important Turn Eight compared with the Red Bulls.
“Lewis' lap – which split the Red Bulls to land him a front row grid slot for tomorrow's race – was particularly satisfying, but Jenson, too, whose final qualifying run was compromised by the deployment of yellow flags, is also in a very strong position. Both he and Lewis are very combative racers who know how to make up positions, and we think our car will have good race pace tomorrow. As a result, I think the 2010 Turkish Grand Prix could present a very exciting spectacle for the fans.”