Hamilton was 19 points behind his rival Verstappen in the drivers’ championship after suffering a bitter defeat for the second race in a row in Mexico last Sunday, and the Briton will apply the penalty of dropping five places from his place in Sunday’s main race.
But the Briton came back strong on Saturday, leading all qualifying sessions and enjoying a four-tenths of a second advantage over rivals Verstappen in the third section.
“I absolutely loved it today,” said Hamilton. “We worked really hard to try and get the right setup for the car. It was tough. So finally getting to that and feeling great in the car today.”
“It is a testament to all the hard work that everyone in the garage and in the factory is doing to get everything out of the car.”
Hamilton noted that this was the second consecutive occasion that he had topped qualifying before receiving a penalty, after receiving a penalty of dropping 10 places in the Turkish Grand Prix.
Hamilton described the punishment as unfortunate, but said he would try to fight back. If he wins the short race tomorrow, Saturday, he will start Sunday’s race from sixth place.
Verstappen and his Red Bull team claimed after qualifying that they were not surprised by Hamilton’s pace advantage in qualifying given he had received a new engine.
While Hamilton was not sure Mercedes’ one-lap advantage would hold in the race, he was happy that the setup was right in qualifying.
“I stayed there nervous about the settings changes. You get it wrong sometimes, you get it wrong sometimes, but we got it right today and it was great to drive today. It was exactly what I wanted,” the Briton said.
“It allowed me to keep pushing. You saw the fastest clip times, so I’ve been winning every time.”
“I don’t know how we can go from a circuit where Red Bull is half a second faster to half a second behind the next, but they will be strong in the race tomorrow. I hope Valtteri has a good start.”
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