Lewis Hamilton insists he’s “generally happy” with his performance in a hectic wet qualifying session, though he will only start sixth at the Turkish Grand Prix, where he can be crowned a seven-time world champion. Q1, Q2 and Q3 lasted almost two hours in Istanbul with the two red flags delaying the first session for 40 minutes.
A thrilling qualifying saw the Racing Point of Lance Stroll seal pole position, his first ever in Formula One, to deny Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
Stroll’s team-mate Sergio Perez starts third having topped the time-sheet in Q3 heading into the final lap.
Verstappen was quickest in all three practice sessions and also both Q1 and Q2 but after switching from full wet tyres to intermediates, failed to keep up his pace and lost out.
The Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas have meanwhile struggled all weekend for grip on the newly-laid Istanbul circuit.
So much so, reigning world champion Hamilton was a surprising 20th in the third and final practice session after setting just three lap times.
Though he starts sixth – with Bottas down in ninth – his commanding 85-point lead in the drivers’ standings means he can still secure the title on Sunday.
Bottas must outscore the Brit by at least eight points if he wants to prolong Hamilton’s celebrations and faces a challenge to do so if the conditions are as tricky as they were here.
He had been hoping for a 10th pole of the year and his 98th career pole but will not even be on either the front or second rows.
Yet Hamilton insists he was pretty pleased with his qualifying performance, because he felt there was not much more he could do in the circumstances on a track he labelled “terrible”.
The 35-year-old reacted to Sky Sports: “Surprise? What’s a surprise? Haven’t you been watching all weekend? I was 20th before [in P3], that’s an improvement!
“There ain’t finding no grip. I’m not really sure what to say. We tried our hardest and did the best we could and that was the fastest we could go.
“I mean the track feels terrible, it’s just like driving on ice. For whatever reason some people can get their tyres switched on better than us.
“I think ultimately we were all struggling out there but some are better than others.
“But I did the best I could, I didn’t spin, I didn’t really make any mistakes so I’m generally happy with what I did. I did everything I could with what I had.”
While team-mate Bottas similarly added: “Getting the tyres to work, and getting heat into the tyres has been the story of the weekend so far.
“We really tried everything we could but in the end when we went for the inter in Q3 we only had two laps and it was never going to be enough to create enough tyre temperature.
“Other teams are doing a better job in that area. If we started on the inters maybe [we would have been able to get up there], but it’s a question mark.
“I think still, some other cars can create much more tyre temp than our car.”
Sky Sports F1 expert Karun Chandhok noted of Mercedes post-qualifying: “All day long, they haven’t looked like they could get temperature in the tyres.
“Whether that be FP3 or even in the dry yesterday they were struggling for temperature.
“All through that qualifying, that car didn’t look like anywhere like it was going to be challenging the Red Bulls, from the first lap on the first set of tyres, it didn’t look like it was close enough.
“They just didn’t have the temperature or the bite underneath them to do the job in that session. Not good news for him [Hamilton].”
Sunday’s Turkish Grand Prix gets underway at 10.10am and Express Sport will have live coverage as Hamilton bids to join record-holder Michael Schumacher on seven titles.