The Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team locked out the front row for the first ever Tuscan Grand Prix on Saturday, but it was a close-run thing with Lewis Hamilton beating Valtteri Bottas by just 0.059s.
It is Hamilton’s ninety-fifth career pole position and his seventh of the season as he edges toward a record-equalling seventh World Drivers’ Championship, but the Briton admits it has not been the easiest of weekends at the Autodromo Internazionale del Mugello.
“I’m so happy to be up here,” said Hamilton. “It’s been a tough weekend, to be honest. This is a phenomenal track and it’s very challenging. You’re going through Turns 6, 7, 8 and 9 at around 275 to 285 km/h and the g-forces we’re pulling through there is just insane.
“Valtteri has been quicker than me all through the weekend, so I’ve been working hard in the background to try and improve my lines and set-up. And finally, I got the lap together that I needed in Q3. The wind picked up a bit for the second lap, which is why I wasn’t able to go any quicker, but the first lap was good enough.
“Valtteri did a great job and has been pushing me really hard, so I’m glad I could pick up the pace once I got to Qualifying. I’m looking forward to tomorrow, it’ll be difficult on such a high-speed track but that should also make it pretty interesting.”
“The yellow flags definitely hampered my Qualifying” – Valtteri Bottas
Team-mate Bottas rued a late yellow flag for a spin for Esteban Ocon that denied him an opportunity to improve his own time, with the Finn feeling he had it in him to go faster than he did on his first run in Q3.
He hopes to reverse his fortunes on race day and take the fight to Hamilton, particularly if he wants to maintain his fading ambitions to win his first Drivers’ Championship in 2020.
“It’s disappointing to miss out on pole, especially by such a small margin and after I had to abort my final lap,” said Bottas. “The yellow flags definitely hampered my Qualifying, as I still had more to come with the last lap and was just waiting for the time to get it all right.
“The first run was okay but not perfect, so I was looking forward to going again but I just didn’t get the opportunity.
“Coming into the weekend, we thought it would be nearly impossible to overtake here but during practice, we’ve seen how wide the track is and the different lines you can take through the corners.
“So, I’m hopeful I’ll be able to take the fight to Lewis tomorrow and have a good battle. There’s a long run to Turn 1 as well, so we’ll see what happens.”
“We’re flying a little bit blind for the race” – Toto Wolff
Toto Wolff, the Head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport, was pleased to see the team lock out the front row for the first ever Tuscan Grand Prix, but the Austrian remains a little concerned about the race pace of the team come Sunday afternoon.
Formula 1 has never raced at Mugello before so teams do not have the data available to them to predict tyre lift and estimated pit stop windows, and it is that uncertainty that makes Wolff nervous heading into the race.
“I’m very happy with a 1-2 in Qualifying and locking out the front row,” said Wolff. “This is such a fast and flowing track, so Qualifying was spectacular – as we expected.
“We have all the ingredients for an exciting race tomorrow, with both Red Bulls behind us and it’s also great to see Ferrari in their 1,000th Grand Prix with a car up in P5.
“We’re flying a little bit blind for the race, with it being a brand-new track for F1. Our long runs in practice actually weren’t that long so there are still some unknowns. We’ll have to see how the tyres last and whether it will be a one or a two-stop, but there are a few strategic options and it will be interesting to see how it all plays out.
“I’m really looking forward to a good race.”