Lewis Hamilton says he “knew where to find the time” to beat Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas to pole position at the French Grand Prix having felt the Finn had been producing “some epic laps” during practice and qualifying.

Hamilton trailed Bottas in both FP2 and FP3 heading into qualifying, while the Finn retained top spot in Q1 and Q2 by less than one-tenth of a second, building into a tight and tense pole position shootout in Q3 with the Mercedes pair well clear of its rivals.

But come the end of the session Hamilton was a comfortable 0.286s ahead of his teammate to storm to his 86th career pole position as he looks to add to his 29-point lead over the Finn in the Formula 1 drivers’ standings.

Quizzed on where he found the key lap time gain, Hamilton has revealed he knew the areas on track at Circuit Paul Ricard where he could find advantages over Bottas but only wanted to use them when it counted in Q3.

“In Q1 and Q2 I think Valtteri just had the edge and I was still learning in the car,” Hamilton said. “Once I got to Q3 I knew where I had to find the time and it was about doing it.

“The first lap was fantastic, really happy with it, however I knew that it was still relatively close and I still needed to find more areas to push and improve so I went out for that second run and I was on for one of my best laps that I have done for a long time. It is crazy as it never gets old and it never gets easier. It is always such a challenge regardless of what position you are battling for.

“I was up four-and-a-half tenths coming into the second to last corner and it was really dust out there so I lost the back end.

“Nonetheless I am really, really happy and if anything it gets harder and harder to get these poles. Valtteri has been doing some epic laps throughout practice and qualifying through these first races and the Ferraris have been there on our tail but obviously there is a bigger gap today. Still think in the race it is going to be a close battle so we have to be ready for it.”

Hamilton also poured credit on his Mercedes crew for continuing to find pace from its 2019 F1 car package having beaten his 2018 pole position time by huge 1.7 seconds.

“The new track surface definitely helps and the car has evolved, it is a good evolution on last year’s car so it is continuously getting better,” he said. “Last year when we were here we had a solid package but the changes we made from last year’s faults have just made it better this weekend.

“I think I drove here last year, it was the first time I had been here, but it was the first time I raced here so coming here you have that knowledge so naturally you improve when you can push and when you can’t.

“The team’s performance and how we’ve dialled in the car and through the session has also improved this year so that is why we are such a strong team as all elements are firing on all cylinders.”

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