Lewis Hamilton said he thrives under “pressure” after salvaging a pole position he thought he had blown in Azerbaijan with a “beautiful lap”.
Hamilton made a mistake on his first lap in final qualifying and was worried he would not be able to make amends when a crash halted the session.
But a superb last lap beat team-mate Valtteri Bottas by 0.434 seconds.
The Mercedes driver’s pole position in Baku was the 66th of his career – only two short of Michael Schumacher’s all-time record – but he said he was “even more excited than I have been for a long time”.
When the session was stopped following the crash by Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, there were only three and a half minutes left, meaning drivers would have time for only one flying lap at the end of the session.
This has been a problem all weekend on the Baku street circuit because drivers have been struggling to get their tyres up to the right operating temperature owing to the low-grip surface and hardness of the tyres.
“It was a great lap,” Hamilton said. “We didn’t think we could do a single lap time here. It is probably difficult for the public to understand why we are struggling but these tyres are really hard and we are trying all these things to get some temperature in the tyre, weaving like crazy.
“It has always been multiple laps to get the temperature in.
“I made a mistake on my [first] run, the red flag came out and I had two minutes to get my run. I don’t know why I like pressure so much.”
Hamilton celebrated with team-mate Valtteri Bottas after a front-row lock-out for Mercedes
Hamilton’s error on his first lap came at the final proper corner before the mile-long straight. He locked up a wheel and ran wide on the exit, costing himself half a second.
“Qualifying was going so well,” said Hamilton, who had been fastest in the first and second parts of qualifying.
“I was so on it – Q1, Q2, then Q3 I made that one little mistake and I was so frustrated I had made that mistake and the red flag came out when I was up again on my next lap and I was thinking ‘there is no way I was going to be able to do it on the first lap’.
“I was so disappointed because I know you need to be perfect to win this title.”
He added: “It’s always really important to get that banker in on the first lap and I didn’t do it. Today was a good recovery and I thought I will not allow myself to do that again next qualifying but you learn from these things.”
Hamilton heads into the race 12 points behind title rival Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari, who qualified fourth behind team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, both more than a second slower than Hamilton.
Vettel said he was confident Ferrari could “match” Mercedes’ pace in the race.
Bottas said: “We seem to be quick here and with Ferrari’s starting positions like it is, nothing else is good other than a one-two for the team.”
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