Lewis Hamilton reveals that he was “hopeful” Fernando Alonso would hang on to take pole position during qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix.
The Spaniard eclipsed Charles Leclerc’s previous benchmark time with his final run to sit on top of the timesheets with Max Verstappen the only frontrunning contender left to complete his last lap during the dying embers of an enthralling Q3 session.
Despite being two-tenths down after the first two sectors, Verstappen produced a scintillating final sector to beat Alonso’s effort by a narrow margin of just 0.084s.
Alonso, who will line up on the front row for the second time in 2023, was therefore denied a first pole in Formula 1 in 195 races, harking back to the 2012 German Grand Prix.
“I was really hopeful that Fernando had pole and I thought ‘this is going to be amazing for him’, but the Red Bull was too quick,” Hamilton revealed. “But wow, that Aston is almost on par with Red Bull and that is phenomenal work. I am really happy for Aston and hope we can do that soon.”
Reflecting on his own qualifying performance, Hamilton admits “my heart was in my mouth” when he was left fighting to advance past both Q1 and Q2.
Having crashed at Mirabeau at the end of the final practice session earlier in the day, Hamilton was languishing in the drop zone as the clock ticked down in the first two segments of qualifying.
After appearing to be lagging behind team-mate George Russell throughout the opening two sessions, Hamilton eventually managed to scrape his way into the pole position shootout, producing a blinding final run in Q3 to wound up fifth overall.
The seven-time World Champion has been no stranger to previously enduring the anguish of a late caution curtailing his Saturday in Monaco and concedes that the prospect of either a red or yellow flag was on his mind as he sought to haul himself out of danger in the opening two stages.
“I didn’t try to leave it late,” he proclaimed. “It is just how it how it turned out.
“Firstly, the team did a really great job of bringing these upgrades. You could really feel it straight away particularly at the front of the car, but then the middle sector is where we had been losing out all weekend, so I had to make some changes.
“I made a change over into qualifying, which made it harder in the first and last sector. So you can’t always have your cake and eat it. I just struggled to get temperature into the tyres in the session. So it’s always that last lap but I managed to pull something out.
“My heart was in my mouth because it could be a yellow flag, red flag, who knows, but we made it through and I’m grateful for the latter.”
Mercedes finally introduced its highly anticipated upgrade package this weekend, with the W14 sporting revised sidepods, an altered front suspension and a new floor.
Both drivers spoke promisingly about the new developments after trialling them for the first time during a Friday in which Hamilton was classified an encouraging third in FP1 before dropping to sixth in FP2.
However, the three-time Monaco victor was spotted struggling through qualifying and he suggests that a minor set-up change was responsible for his troubles over a single lap.
“We had been trying something through the weekend and we had some uncertainty with it so we went back halfway with the other car,” he explained. “But I went a different way on mine. I was like ‘No, take it off. And they were like, no, no, please keep it’. I was like ‘I’m certain of it. And if I’m wrong, then I’ll put my hands up’.
“In the end it was okay. But probably for a single lap it was worse. But I think for the race I think it will be better.”
But after being usurped by the Alpine of Esteban Ocon to a top-three starting spot, Hamilton asserts Mercedes is still too reliant on others around them suffering misfortune.
“Honestly, I’ll take anything I can get,” he added. “Now when you think about it, we are having to rely on others currently, so when you have Checo [Perez] in the wall, it’s like ‘thank you’ and Ocon came out of nowhere and did a really great lap.