Hamilton relieved with third

McLaren driver happy to finally find a car balance he liked

By William Esler.   Last Updated: 13/10/12 7:01pm

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Lewis Hamilton was a relieved man on Saturday night after avoiding two close shaves, and overcoming a handling imbalance, to qualify third for the Korean GP.

Having lost his way in Practice Two on Friday, Hamilton was within a whisker of being eliminated at the close of Q1, and then only narrowly avoided a pitlane accident with the Mercedes of Michael Schumacher at the start of Q3, before producing a lap of 1:37.469 to line up behind the two Red Bulls of Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel.

"I'm really happy," Hamilton told Sky Sports F1. "It was a tough weekend trying to get the best out of the car and the tyres and get the car set-up right. We made a good step in P3, but I nearly went out in Q1, I was like 'phew,' I wanted to tell the guys but I remained cool although I was on the edge thinking 'Jesus'. But I was very happy to get a lap right at the end on fresh tyres which has put us in a good position for the race."

Hamilton's Q3 nearly came to an awkward end when Mercedes released Schumacher into the path of the driver who will replace him at the team next season, forcing the McLaren driver to dive towards the garages, narrowly missing the rear of the Silver Arrows. The Brackley team were later fined £8,000 by race stewards for the incident.

"I was released first and I was already up to speed and they tried to rush him out ahead of me, and I had to dodge around him," Hamilton added.

"Track position is so important here that when you go out you have a train of cars trying to get heat into their tyres, then at the end everyone slows down to try and get themselves a gap of about seven seconds. I was like 'I'm not slowing down, I'm going to go past everyone'."

Hamilton also confirmed he intends to take that aggressive approach into the race as he looks to get past both Red Bulls and keep his title challenge alive.

"Making the right choices, not making any mistakes and hoping we have good long run pace," Hamilton stated as the key factors in improving on his grid slot.

"I haven't done a long runs yet this weekend as I have been focusing on the set-up. A good start would be a major help, and there is two long straights so there is a good chance to slipstream and overtake other drivers."

Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh echoed Hamilton's thoughts and knows a good strategy is key in stopping Red Bull winning three races in a row.

"It is important to make a good start because I think the easiest time it is to make up places - plural - is between the start line and the end of that first lap," he told Sky Sports News.

"So you have try with both of them. But of course with Lewis we are trying to catch up at the beginning but as we have seen this season you need to have your tyres in good conditions at the end of each stint to do the lap times. So the starts are easy, you need good strategy, looking after tyres - it will be the same for both of them as it will be throughout the field."

For McLaren, however, it was a day of mixed emotions as Jenson Button missed out on Q3 all together after lifting for yellow flags on his final flying lap.

"That is what happens in motor racing," added Whitmarsh.

"Lewis did a great lap and was relatively close to the Red Bulls, it would be nice to be on the front row, but it is good to be on the right side of the second row. We showed good long run pace on Friday in the team and I think he feels with the right start and right strategy we have a chance of winning tomorrow.

"For Jenson, he has had good pace throughout the weekend but in Q2 he didn't quite get his first lap right, then yellow flags meant he missed out by four thousandths of a second which is pretty frustrating when you had to lift in the final sector.

"On the positive from that he is in 11th place and has a free choice of tyre, he has new options and new prime, so in some ways I'd rather be in that position than 10th, ninth, eighth or seventh even. So with the pace he has shown in long runs and he can look after the tyres then he could fight through to the podium, but it is not exactly where you want to be on a Saturday afternoon."

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