By Alan Davies, Sports reporter
Saturday, November 12, 2011
FORMULA 1 driver Lewis Hamilton is looking to convert his front row start into victory in Sunday’s 2011 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
The Vodafone McLaren Mercedes ace from Hertfordshire qualified second overall around the spectacular Yas Marina Circuit this lunchtime, with F1 world champion Sebastian Vettel snatching pole position right at the death.
However, with Hamilton lining up second on the grid and team-mate Jenson Button third, McLaren officials feel the team’s two drivers have a great platform from which to challenge for victory tomorrow (Sunday).
Hamilton was quickest in both second and third practice, and then dominated qualifying until Vettel’s final flying lap for Red Bull in the closing seconds of Q3.
In fact, had the Herts-born F1 racer repeated his time from Q2 – 1m 38.434s – he would have taken first place on the grid in the United Arab Emirates.
“It would be nice to have had pole position, but that Red Bull, as always, is very quick in Q3,” said Hamilton afterwards.
“Still, we’ve got our car to a point where it works particularly well on certain tracks, and we always seem to go well here.
“To be as competitive as we’ve been this weekend is very encouraging – we’re on the front row so we can have a good race from there.
“And, for the first time in quite a while, my long-run pace was pretty good too, and I think we had more fuel on board than some of the other teams.
“I feel really good about tomorrow, in fact.”
Hamilton has set his sights on leading the race by the first corner of the 5.554km circuit built on reclaimed land on Yas Island.
“I hope I have a good start – I really want to get into Turn One first,” said the 2008 F1 world champion, who was second in Abu Dhabi last year.
“But, if I can’t, I’ll follow Sebastian [Vettel] as closely as I can.
"I hope I have a good start – I really want to get into Turn One first."
“I’ll try my hardest not to let him get more than a second ahead, and I’ll try to get ahead through the DRS zones.
“Last year I started second but braked early into Turn One and let Sebastian have the corner. I’ve just told him that’s not going to happen tomorrow, though.”
McLaren colleague Button is also looking to put pressure on Vettel from third place on the grid.
“Third isn’t a bad place from which to start – hopefully we’ll get one over on the Red Bulls tomorrow,” said Button.
Martin Whitmarsh felt McLaren’s qualifying positions could, and probably should, have been even better.
“It may sound a little churlish to say that we’re a bit disappointed with second and third today, but the honest truth is that we are,” said the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team principal.
“Granted, second and third is a pretty creditable result – it’s a platform from which we can win tomorrow in fact – but I don’t mind admitting that we were eyeing pole position today.
“Lewis and Jenson both did a good job though – and, looking forward, they’re both great racers and we think we’ll have a strong race package for tomorrow.
“Our long-run pace has been impressive all weekend, and we think we’ll be in good shape on both the Prime and the Option [tyre].”
Whitmarsh also feels there will be opportunities to pass around the Yas Marina Circuit.
He said: “People tend to opine that it’s difficult to overtake here in Abu Dhabi – and so it is.
“But there are two DRS zones, and of course there’s also the all-important drag down to the first corner.
“Beyond that, you’ve got to get the strategy right, and let’s just say that we intend to pile the pressure on tomorrow afternoon!”
The 2011 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix starts at 1pm GMT on Sunday.