SUZUKA, Japan — Lewis Hamilton labelled Mercedes “the best team in the world” and one that thrives under pressure after outfoxing Ferrari in qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix.
Hamilton claimed his 80th career pole position at Suzuka on Saturday while title-rival Sebastian Vettel was on the receiving end of another poor Ferrari strategic call and as a result will start the race from P9. The Scuderia sent Vettel and teammate Kimi Raikkonen out on intermediate tyres in Q3 despite the track appearing to be mostly dry and by the time they had returned to fit the super-soft compound, rain began to fall and the opportunity to set a competitive lap was lost.
Meanwhile, Hamilton went straight out on the super-soft tyre and set a time of 1:27.760 to take top spot, 0.299s ahead of teammate Valtteri Bottas who will line-up alongside him on the front row.
“The team has done an amazing job this weekend,” Hamilton said after qualifying. “The call that we made to go out in Q3 was probably the most difficult. You saw us all fumbling and trying to figure out what to do. The team was spot on with it and gave us the opportunity to grab pole position.
“It is so difficult out there to make the call but I think that’s another real big difference we’ve made this year. Every team has smart people but ultimately when it comes to being under pressure, making the right decisions and the right calls, that’s why we are the best team in the world and rightly so, they deserve that.”
Hamilton was also asked why he believes Mercedes has performed better than Ferrari this year when under pressure. Since opening up a 10 point lead in the constructors’ championship after the Austrian Grand Prix, Ferrari has been on a slide and with five races remaining in the season sit 53 points adrift of Mercedes.
“I think with experience that does come,” he said. “We’ve all been together for quite some time, pretty much the same group of guys and at this point of the year you would hope you were more knowledgeable and able to be better at making decisions. I definitely think the team has been much more focused and still on it.”
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff admitted Hamilton was very close to joining the Ferraris on intermediate tyres in Q3 and while please to have ultimately made the correct call in abandoning that compound, he refused to take a whack at his title-rivals.
“It was a very tricky session today to get it right, we were debating intermediates versus super-softs for a long [time] and we decided last minute — we had [intermediate tyres] them ready and then we changed them — and got the timing perfect,” Wolff said. “It was just circumstances really and we decided the right things at the right moment, but there is certainly a little bit of a luck factor in there also insofar that I wouldn’t want to be negative about Ferrari’s decision.
“We have had our fair share of criticism. I remember Austria this year where we pitted Lewis out of the lead, so I think we are trying to stay humble and accepting that it’s not always easy.”