Lewis Hamilton 'ecstatic' at breaking British pole record but wary of set-up change
Title-chasing Lewis to start on front row for Sunday's Chinese GP alongside Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo after stunning display in qualifying
By Pete Gill and James Galloway. Last Updated: 19/04/14 1:00pm
Lewis Hamilton says he is "ecstatic" after breaking the record for all-time pole positions in F1 by a British driver, but admitted he may be racing into the "unknown" with the set-up of his dominant W05 car in Sunday's Chinese GP.
In a supreme display of wet-weather driving, Hamilton was a class apart in Saturday's qualifying hour, topping every session and claiming pole position by six-tenths of a second from Daniel Ricciardo with a lap of 1:53.860.
Such was Hamilton's superiority that his banker lap of 1:54.348 at the start of Q3 was also sufficient to have claimed the 34th pole of his career and break the long-standing record of Jim Clark. Mercedes chief Toto Wolff later exclaimed that "we have seen a mega Lewis Hamilton".
"It was a tough session, I really enjoyed it, the car was feeling great. There are always things you can improve on but the team have done a great job," said a jubilant Hamilton.
"The car's feeling great. I managed to pull out a great lap and I love this track in the wet. I'm ecstatic.
"But while it's great winning and getting pole positions, I just want to win the World Championship. This is a step in the right direction but now we need to follow-through for the win tomorrow."
Although it was never apparent during qualifying, Hamilton's weekend has not been without difficulty. The Mercedes driver missed an hour of running during Friday Practice after a suspension problem was detected on his W05 and then sat out Saturday morning's P3 warm-up in order to save up intermediate tyres for the all-important qualy hour.
"We all had to save our tyres and I didn't feel the need to go out," explained the Englishman. "I don't think it's great for the fans that we don't have a huge amount of tyres just to go out and run so they can see us driving. People turn up at the track to watch us drive and we're a little bit restricted by the engine mileage and also with the tyres."
The wait was worth it, however, as Hamilton delivered a stunning masterclass to trump the field when qualifying began under dark and watery skies. While Hamilton was untouchable in the wet and damp conditions, literally driving team-mate and title rival Nico Rosberg into a spin as the championship leader struggled to keep up, the 2008 World Champion admits that he is anticipating a dry race with a degree of wariness.
"It's kind of strange because we've made all these changes overnight and today's been wet, so I have no idea if it's in the right direction," Hamilton conceded. "It's good in the wet, so hopefully it's the same tomorrow in the dry."
"It's a little bit of an unknown, but we shouldn't be too far off."
Hamilton's third pole in four races cements his status as the bookies' favourite in China and should he convert his starting position into the race victory on Sunday it would secure a third win in succession, a feat he has never previously achieved in F1.
Asked about the prospect of such a hat-trick, Hamilton attempted to play down its significance, but did acknowledge the effect it can have on rivals.
"To be honest I haven't really thought about it. When I was in Formula Three I won ten races in a row - it feels great winning races and that's what I'm here to do, but I want to win throughout all the year," he told reporters.
"Naturally every time you go out you want to go faster and faster and be at the top and get pole positions and win races because that has a psychological effect on your competitors. That's what they are trying to do to me and that's what I am attempting to do to them."
Any Sunday success would nonetheless represent a third straight defeat of Rosberg, who currently holds an 11-point championship lead over him, but Hamilton added: "I don't feel it [the momentum]'s shifted in my favour. Nico's driving really well and he's pushing me very hard and keeping me on my toes. I'm working as hard as I can.
"I think we're going to see from race to race there's going to be some times when he's going to be quicker and some times when I'm going to be quicker, as we saw last year. I've generally gone quite well here [in China] but then, for example, Bahrain he got pole, he's generally been stronger there, and my job this year was to close the gap a little bit, which I did - it wasn't half a second like it was last year in qualifying, it was three tenths.
"Generally what I'm really trying to focus on is those circuits I am maybe weaker and not as close to him, I want to make sure I close that gap. So damage limitation on those races and I think last weekend was one of those races."
Rosberg will start fourth after spinning out at the final corner of his last run, but admitted that he wouldn't have been able to match Hamilton's time.
"I was struggling on the brakes, which is why my last sector was so bad and in the end I just tried a little too hard," said the German. "I was slower anyway on that last lap so I had to give it a go into the last corner to see if I could pull back some time. I just wasn't quick enough in general."
Rosberg described himself as feeling uncomfortable in the W05 this weekend but added "in the dry it is less of a problem."
A dry race is forecast for Sunday with the two Red Bulls separating Rosberg from Hamilton.
Sunday's race, exclusively live on Sky F1, starts at 8am UK Time.