Mercedes team boss Niki Lauda said he had never seen anything like it after watching Lewis Hamilton scorch to pole position in the final seconds of Saturday’s qualifying for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
The three-time champion Austrian, who is Mercedes’ non-executive chairman, also praised the team for their work in turning around a car that had struggled on Friday, when Hamilton was 10th, into the fastest just 24 hours later.
“The team really did a fantastic job to set the car up in the right way and Lewis with his lap here — I have never seen anything like it,” said the 68-year-old Austrian.
“And it was not plain sailing at all, but I tell you, a lot of thinking, digging back to the factory, forward and whatsoever and, in the end, the improvements they did — the engineers — and all the mechanics did to the car today is outstanding.
“And then what Lewis did today! Nobody else, I think, can do that.”
Hamilton’s 66th pole position lifted the 32-year-old into outright second place in the record books behind only seven-time champion German Michael Schumacher, on 68.
“He’s fantastic,” said Lauda. “Especially I am now thinking about his lap time here. The difference he makes to everybody is only Lewis. So – fantastic.”
Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas had been quickest in the final Q3 session until Hamilton’s late intervention.
“I think Lewis had a really good lap and I didn’t,” said Bottas.
“I wasn’t quite comfortable with the tyre temperatures. It was the first time we tried to go for a time in the first lap of the tyres and I couldn’t get them to work as well as Lewis.
“I didn’t have enough grip. The run before was good and, before the red flag, everything was going ok.
“In the end, I’m disappointed to lose the pole position, as that was definitively the target for me.”
“But I’m really proud,” added the 27-year-old Finnish driver. “We’ve made quite big changes through the practice sessions, we were quite lost, to be honest, in the beginning and we managed to turn it around.
“So for that I’m really, pleased. For tomorrow we, as a team, definitively have a great starting position and we’re going to have a good fight and try to get another one-two.”
Lewis Hamilton snatched pole position for Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix after eclipsing Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas with a phenomenal final qualifying lap on Saturday.
The three-time world champion starts ahead of Bottas with Ferrari duo Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel, the championship leader, occupying the second row of the grid.
Hamilton claimed the 66th pole of his career, pulling clear of Brazilian great Ayrton Senna and leaving the Briton just two shy of Michael Schumacher’s record of 68.
His quickest lap of 1min 40.593sec came in the final seconds of the session following a red-flagged stoppage which turned the finale into a 3min 30sec showdown.
The 32-year-old bounced back from a frustrating practice outing on Friday to clinch his fifth pole in eight races this season as Mercedes locked out the front row.
Hamilton, who was quickest around the Baku street circuit by half a second, could match Schumacher’s mark at next month’s British Grand Prix if he can also take pole in Austria in a fortnight.
“That was one of the most exciting laps I have had all year,” said an ecstatic Hamilton. “A lot of pressure as we’ve been struggling with getting temperature into the tyres – I was just praying it was enough.
“I am so pumped – that’s how qualifying should be. It is going to be a long hard race, but it’s the best place to start.”
Bottas, who had been fastest in Q3 until Hamilton’s stunning final lap, admitted he was disappointed.
“The lap, in the end, wasn’t quite perfect, I was struggling the front left temperature and Lewis then did his lap! It’s disappointing, but second place is not bad.”
Hamilton is 12 points behind Vettel in the championship after seven races.
Max Verstappen was fifth for Red Bull ahead of the two Force Indias of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon, Canadian teenager Lance Stroll who was eighth ahead of his Williams team-mate Felipe Massa and Australian Daniel Ricciardo, who crashed his Red Bull to engage the red flag and create the final drama.
Valtteri Bottas made clear Thursday that he is keen to secure a long-term future with Mercedes and is not speaking to any other F1 teams about 2018 and beyond.
The Finn, who joined Mercedes last December as replacement for retired 2016 world champion Nico Rosberg, said he felt no pressure in not having a contract beyond 2017.
“I feel normal, because every single year I’ve been in Formula One I was in the same situation at this time of the year, as I had no idea, at this point, what I was going to do the following year,” said Bottas, who has had a pole position and a race victory this year in his opening seven Grands Prix with the team.
“So, for me, it’s a normal situation.”
Media and paddock speculation about Bottas’s future began earlier this week when Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff said the driver was in a “uncomfortable situation” and added that there was no hurry to offer him a contract extension.
Bottas knows Wolff well, and vice-versa, as the Austrian was his manager before he joined Mercedes.
“I don’t know when I will know,” sad Bottas. “The time line is quite flexible, but, like I said, there’s no rush.”
“The discussions will be open soon, because as a driver, at some point, it’s always nice to know what you’re going to do next year.”
“But it’s still early days and for sure I’m keen to have a long-term relationship with Mercedes. Every day I work hard to make the most out of every single situation I’m in.”
Bottas is third in the drivers’ championship ahead of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix this weekend.