Lewis Hamilton’s chances of a perfect weekend for his title hopes took a dent in qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix.
And it left the seven-time World Champion feeling “terrible” as he owned up to a costly mistake.
Boosted by news that his title rival Max Verstappen will start at the back of the grid after taking an engine penalty, the Briton was hoping for a maximum points haul to tilt the balance firmly back in his favour.
With high hopes of pole position, and having his Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas on the front row alongside him, everything was looking hunky dory for Hamilton when qualifying surprisingly got under way on time after a soggy Sochi morning.
But as the track dried sufficiently to allow the final run in Q3 to be worth a gamble on slick tyres, Hamilton bashed the wall and damaged his front wing as he was entering the pits to shed his intermediates.
After the wing had been replaced, Hamilton had the chance of only one flying lap on the soft tyres and reported he could not get them up to temperature, failing to improve on his earlier time as Lando Norris, Carlos Sainz and George Russell all went faster than him.
To add insult to injury, Hamilton spun on his final lap, brushing the barrier, and will start the race fourth, with Bottas down in seventh and Daniel Ricciardo and Fernando Alonso in between the duo.
One positive for Mercedes is that conditions on race day are expected to be drier.
Reflecting on that tough end to Quali.
Still believe that the win is there for the taking tomorrow. 👊
Keep the faith, Team. 🖤❤️ pic.twitter.com/WjAVIG7QB1
— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) September 25, 2021
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“It’s just a mistake from myself,” admitted Hamilton on Sky F1 about hitting the wall at the pit entry.
“Ultimately, incredibly disappointed in myself. Until then I was in a groove, I was really in the zone and I’m really sorry for all the team that are here and back at the factory because that’s not what you expect from a champion.
“But it is what it is and I’ll do my best tomorrow to try and rectify it.
“It was horrible at the end, very poor grip, very slippery when you don’t have any temp and I was losing temperature during the lap. Then twice in the wall, that’s very rare for me.
“These things are sent to try us and I feel terrible right now, but I’ll turn it into a positive and try to do the best.”
Mercedes were much quicker than their rivals in the dry during the two practice sessions that were able to go ahead, and victory remains within his grasp albeit now more difficult.
“The guys out front have good pace,” he said. “It definitely won’t be easy and I’ll just say my prayers and hope the car can be fixed and it’s hopefully okay for tomorrow.
“But you’ve got to put it on pole, so congrats to Lando.”