Lewis Hamilton labelled his final qualifying lap “pretty p*** poor” as he was pipped to pole position by Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas, who finished a tenth of a second quicker to front the grid in Sunday’s Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix.
Formula One returned to the iconic Imola circuit for the first time since 2006 but despite topping the time-sheet in practice, Hamilton couldn’t quite put it together in qualifying.
In an all-Mercedes battle for pole, Bottas produced a fine final lap to finish 0.097s faster than six-time world champion Hamilton.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was meanwhile half a second behind the two Silver Arrows in northern Italy.
Hamilton, who is looking for a record-extending 93rd career win after breaking Michael Schumacher’s record a week ago, was not happy with his own performance.
“Yeah, Valtteri did a great job. It was a pretty p*** poor lap from myself,” he said. “These things happen, you can’t always get it perfect.
“But what a beautiful place we’re in here in Italy and the track is unbelievable, the speeds that we’re going around this track.
“Grateful to be here and grateful to have the performance we have, which is really remarkable, it feels better here than it did in the last race. It was a real challenge out there but I enjoyed it.”
Hamilton and Bottas are looking to help Mercedes to a seventh straight constructors’ title and must avoid being outscored by 34 points by the Red Bulls of Verstappen and Alex Albon.
The Brit reckons he and his Finnish team-mate stand a good chance of delivering the first part of yet another double title triumph.
That’s because the 35-year-old thinks cars will struggle to overtake each other at Imola other than down the main straight.
“What is unfortunate with this track is it’s so beautiful to drive but I think you are going to see a pretty boring race tomorrow,” he said.
“You can overtake on this long straight but it’s quite narrow. Once you get into Turn 1, it’s a train from there, there’s no single place to overtake anywhere else.
“It’s going to be a challenge for people following. The DRS will hopefully give some overtaking opportunities into Turn 1 for people.
“For us that means, you see we’re within half a tenth of each other so to have an opportunity of overtaking I think you need a gain of something like two seconds in speed on the car ahead to have a chance.
“Nonetheless I will give it everything I have got tomorrow and fingers crossed.
“They don’t build tracks like this anymore, I don’t know why the new guys can’t build a track like this, it’s a classic, it’s got the history that helps and it’s one of the most beautiful places here in Italy.”
Pole-sitter Bottas declared: “You always have to [fight for it]. There are never easy pole positions. I really enjoyed it. This track when you push flat out is beautiful.
“I knew I had to improve in the last lap and I found those small gains that were needed. It’s a great feeling when you get those. It was good fun.
“Turn 2-3, that was something I was really working on today and only got there at the end, and the last couple of corners as well, I struggled when I tried to risk and go for it.
“I struggled with instability but I knew on the last lap I had to try so I risked it and the car managed to turn in nicely.”
Previewing Sunday’s race, Bottas expects both Hamilton and Verstappen to give him a challenge into the first corner.
“It’s going to be a good fight,” he continued. “It’s one of the longest runs in the calendar into Turn One.
“No doubt Lewis and Max will be chasing me, but it’s a good place to start and hopefully the pace is good and game on.”
Verstappen suffered issues in Q2 which threatened to leave him starting in 15th, though his mechanics did a brilliant job to repair the problem and get him out in time to set a lap time.
The Dutchman said: “It wasn’t a great qualifying because of that [the issue], I only did two laps in Q1 and you want to go out and get that run in in Q2 but then we had trouble.
“It was a bit tricky. The mediums got through, but we definitely seemed to struggle a bit, the first run in Q3 not a lot of grip. The second run was a little bit better.
“At the end of the day, P3 is not bad but personally I expected to be a little bit closer to to fight them a little bit more. After Q2 we lost our way a little bit.
“It’s really enjoyable to drive. I initially thought it was going to be a little bit too narrow for these cars but it’s fine. I really enjoy it. I hope tomorrow we can have a really cool race here.”
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