Lewis Hamilton has said that he is ‘happy’ with third place on the Japanese Grand Prix and said that his final attempt at qualifying was compromised by incidents at the final corner of his out-lap involving Mark Webber and Michael Schumacher.
The Brit looked as though he could challenge Sebastian Vettel, but crossed the start line to begin his last flying lap after the checkered flag had fallen. Vettel and Jenson Button did start laps and managed to beat the time that Hamilton had already set.
“I'm happy to be third – I'll be starting from the cleaner side of the grid, and we can have a good race from there,” said Hamilton.
“And I'm pleased that we've been extremely competitive all weekend. We've definitely shown an improvement: to be so close at a high-speed circuit like this means we're doing well. It's very encouraging, because if we'd had this car at the beginning of the season, I think the championship could have been a different story.
“In Q3, my final attempt at a lap was compromised when I entered the final corner on my out-lap and, from out of nowhere, Mark shot up the inside of me. Then Michael came past on my outside and went across the grass. Those incidents delayed me, so I couldn't reach the startline to begin my lap – it was an interesting situation but we were all up against it to get across the line.
“I might be starting third, but I know I'm as quick as the two guys in front of me. It's not been a fantastic weekend for me so far, so hopefully that'll change tomorrow.”
Button was encouraged by his qualifying performance today, and said that he got the most out of his car on his final qualifying lap.
“This is the closest I've been to pole position all season, but it's still not pole: tomorrow's grid will still be the same distance from first to second place,” he said.
“But I'm satisfied, because I didn't leave anything out on the track today – I feel like I got everything I could from the car; there was nothing left.
“I think the whole team feels encouraged because we didn't come to this race with any significant upgrades, we just got the car working well all weekend. We have a more efficient rear wing, particularly with DRS, but we've just made this car very quick on high-speed circuits. We were quick at Spa, and we're quick here too, so it's no surprise.
“Our Friday long-runs on high-fuel were less than ideal, but we've seen the form vary significantly between Friday and Sunday, so tomorrow should be very different.
“Sunday's the important day: we start second, but it's so, so close. I really hope we can take the fight to Red Bull tomorrow.”
McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh concedes that the team could have given Hamilton clearer instructions as the qualifying clock ticked down. He also congratulated Button on his performance in Japan so far this weekend.
“The whole qualifying session was extremely tight today, said Whitmarsh. “In terms of pace, we're encouraged by our performance – it's the closest we've been to the Red Bulls for some time, and, with one driver starting second and the other third, we're in good shape for the race tomorrow.
“Jenson did a great job in qualifying. In fact, he's been driving brilliantly all weekend – to miss out on pole by 9/1000ths of a second, which equates to a mere 68cm when travelling across the start/finish line at around 280km/h, is extremely unfortunate. But he's on the front row and in a very strong position for the race.
“Lewis did a great job, too, particularly with an incredibly quick lap in Q2 and on his first run of Q3. It was a little tight on time as we left the garage for his final run – we knew we couldn't afford to let any other cars past – but he lost time on his out-lap and didn't quite make it to the finish line in time to start his final run.
“With the benefit of hindsight, we perhaps didn't make it clear enough to Lewis about what he needed to achieve on his out-lap.
“Nonetheless, our car has a good balance, both drivers are feeling confident and I'm sure we can have an exciting race tomorrow.”