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‘Fantastic’ Hamilton leaves Lauda stunned

Pole position winner Mercedes’ British driver Lewis Hamilton celebrates after the qualifying session for the Formula One Azerbaijan Grand Prix at the Baku City Circuit in Baku on June 24, 2017 © AFP / ANDREJ ISAKOVIC

BAKU, Azerbaijan, Jun 24Mercedes team boss Niki Lauda said he had never seen anything like it after watching Lewis Hamilton scorch to pole position in the final seconds of Saturday’s qualifying for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

The three-time champion Austrian, who is Mercedes’ non-executive chairman, also praised the team for their work in turning around a car that had struggled on Friday, when Hamilton was 10th, into the fastest just 24 hours later.

“The team really did a fantastic job to set the car up in the right way and Lewis with his lap here — I have never seen anything like it,” said the 68-year-old Austrian.

“And it was not plain sailing at all, but I tell you, a lot of thinking, digging back to the factory, forward and whatsoever and, in the end, the improvements they did — the engineers — and all the mechanics did to the car today is outstanding.

“And then what Lewis did today! Nobody else, I think, can do that.”

Hamilton’s 66th pole position lifted the 32-year-old into outright second place in the record books behind only seven-time champion German Michael Schumacher, on 68.

“He’s fantastic,” said Lauda. “Especially I am now thinking about his lap time here. The difference he makes to everybody is only Lewis. So — fantastic.”

Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas had been quickest in the final Q3 session until Hamilton’s late intervention.

“I think Lewis had a really good lap and I didn’t,” said Bottas.

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“I wasn’t quite comfortable with the tyre temperatures. It was the first time we tried to go for a time in the first lap of the tyres and I couldn’t get them to work as well as Lewis.

“I didn’t have enough grip. The run before was good and, before the red flag, everything was going ok.

“In the end, I’m disappointed to lose the pole position, as that was definitively the target for me.”

“But I’m really proud,” added the 27-year-old Finnish driver. “We’ve made quite big changes through the practice sessions, we were quite lost, to be honest, in the beginning and we managed to turn it around.

“So for that I’m really, pleased. For tomorrow we, as a team, definitively have a great starting position and we’re going to have a good fight and try to get another one-two.”

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