F1 2011 Indian Grand Prix: Hamilton challenging the Red Bulls for pace
PUBLISHED: 16:51 29 October 2011 | UPDATED: 10:31 30 October 2011
FORMULA 1 driver Lewis Hamilton was proud of splitting the Red Bulls in qualifying for the 2011 Indian Grand Prix.
The Vodafone McLaren Mercedes hero was second fastest around the new Buddh International Circuit in qualifying but will start from fifth after incurring a three-place grid penalty in practice on Friday.
Nevertheless, the 26-year-old from Hertfordshire is looking to mix it with the Red Bulls of double F1 world champion Sebastian Vettel, who goes from pole position tomorrow, and Mark Webber, who will also start on the front row.
After clocking a lap of 1m 24.474s, Hamilton said: “To be able to split the Red Bulls on qualifying pace is something that everybody in the team should feel proud about.
“In fact, I’ve been really happy with my qualifying performance throughout the whole year – it’s been getting more and more consistent.
"I think we’ve got good pace, but it’s going to be a long race. "
“On my last run, I was only a tenth down going into the penultimate corner, but I chose to abort the lap and save the tyres for tomorrow as it’s going to be a long race.”
Hamilton has taken his latest punishment from the stewards on the chin.
“It’s a little bit unfortunate to have a grid penalty, but that’s life,” said the Stevenage-born racer.
“I think we’ve got good pace, but it’s going to be a long race.
“Still, with the long, wide straights and two DRS zones, overtaking should be easier here than it is at some of the other circuits, so I’m optimistic about what we can do around here tomorrow.”
Hamilton added: “I also think it’s cool that you throw up a bit of dust when you go off-line – that’s how racing should be: there should be grass and dirt when you go off the track.”
The McLaren driver is very impressed with motorsport’s newest Formula 1 circuit.
“I want to say a big thank-you to the organisers. This circuit is smooth, fast and flowing,” said the 2008 world champion.
“It’s beautiful, in fact; the facilities are fantastic and the people have been extremely welcoming.
“This is one of the best circuits in the world and it’s definitely a race people should come to visit.”
McLaren’s Jenson Button was fifth overall in qualifying today but will start from one place further up the grid on the second row due to Hamilton’s penalty.
Hamilton’s team-mate clocked 1m 24.950s on Options, but was happier with the performance of his MP4-26 in third practice.
Button said: “The car felt great this morning but I couldn’t find any grip this afternoon, particularly on the Prime tyre.
“So we need to work out why we can’t find that balance because I want to try to improve things for tomorrow [Sunday].”
Of today’s qualifying session, Button said: “I struggled with traffic all afternoon – it was difficult to find a clear lap, and, when I did, I’d taken too much out of my tyres already.
“On my final run, I saw Felipe [Massa] heading into the gravel as I came up to him.
“I definitely would have been quicker on that run, but I got into the yellow flag zone, saw his car, spotted the smoke and backed out of it a little bit.
“I definitely lost time in the sector – the data showed that I was 14km/h down in fact.”
Unlike Hamilton on Friday, Button escaped any punishment from the FIA race stewards out in India.
The 2009 F1 world champion added: “I hope I can take the car I had yesterday, as opposed to the car I had this afternoon, into the race.
“It felt stronger on high-fuel during Friday running, so hopefully we can find that again tomorrow.”
The first Grand Prix of India starts at 9.30am GMT on Sunday.
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