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By Alan Davies, Sports reporter
Saturday, October 8, 2011
"With the benefit of hindsight, we perhaps didn’t make it clear enough to Lewis about what he needed to achieve on his out-lap."
The Vodafone McLaren Mercedes star from Hertfordshire was quickest in the second phase of qualifying at the famous figure-of-eight Suzuka circuit in Japan this morning (Saturday).
The 2008 F1 world champion was then on provisional pole after the first runs in Q3.
However, Hamilton was unable to get in a second hot lap in the closing seconds of qualifying after getting caught in traffic on his out-lap and misjudging how much time he had left.
He failed to cross the start line before the 10-minute session finished and could only watch as his earlier run was eclipsed by Sebastian Vettel’s flying Red Bull, the German taking his fifth successive pole.
Suzuka Circuit Specifications
Top speed: 310km/h
Average speed: 220km/h
Pit straight length: 710m
Circuit length: 5.807km
Race length: 53 laps/308km
Number of corners: 18
Longest section at full throttle: 16sec/1,230m
McLaren colleague Jenson Button also improved his time to take the second front row spot.
Hamilton had to settle for third place on the grid alongside bitter Ferrari rival Felipe Massa.
He said his MP4-26 was held up in the frantic final seconds of qualifying by the Mercedes GP of Michael Schumacher and Mark Webber’s Red Bull.
“In Q3, my final attempt at a lap was compromised when I entered the final corner on my out-lap and, from out of nowhere, Mark [Webber] shot up the inside of me,” said Herts-born Hamilton.
"I might be starting third, but I know I’m as quick as the two guys in front of me."
“Then Michael [Schumacher] came past on my outside and went across the grass.
“Those incidents delayed me, so I couldn’t reach the start line to begin my lap – it was an interesting situation but we were all up against it to get across the line.”
Hamilton clocked 1m 31.139s on Primes to set the pace in Q2 and was third overall in Q3 with a lap of 1m 30.617s on Options.
He said: “I’m happy to be third – I’ll be starting from the cleaner side of the grid, and we can have a good race from there.”
McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh further explained what went wrong in qualifying for Hamilton.
He said: “Lewis did a great job, particularly with an incredibly quick lap in Q2 and on his first run of Q3.
“It was a little tight on time as we left the garage for his final run – we knew we couldn’t afford to let any other cars past – but he lost time on his out-lap and didn’t quite make it to the finish line in time to start his final run.
“With the benefit of hindsight, we perhaps didn’t make it clear enough to Lewis about what he needed to achieve on his out-lap.”
While Hamilton lines up on the second row, Button – who was fastest in all three practice sessions for Sunday’s race – missed out on pole by 9/1000ths of a second, which equates to a mere 68cm!
The Frome flier said: “This is the closest I’ve been to pole position all season, but it’s still not pole: tomorrow’s grid will still be the same distance from first to second place.
“But I’m satisfied, because I didn’t leave anything out on the track today – I feel like I got everything I could from the car; there was nothing left.”
The 2011 Grand Prix of Japan starts at 7am on Sunday.
Vettel needs just one point to be crowned F1 world champion again.
The race is being televised live on BBC One.
* Videos courtesy of Vodafone McLaren Mercedes.