Lewis Hamilton showed he has lost none of his hunger for grand prix racing today as he hustled his McLaren into the top ten qualifying shoot-out in Shanghai with what he described as some “pretty hardcore laps”.
The McLaren driver, who has faced intense scrutiny over the past few weeks for lying to race stewards in Australia, was once again under pressure on the track as he battled to make it into the final qualifying session for Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix.
Aided this weekend by an interim split-diffuser on his McLaren MP4-24 as well as several smaller aerodynamic upgrades, Hamilton led a blistering assault on the demanding Shanghai International Circuit to progress to Q3 and claim ninth place on the grid.
“They were pretty hardcore laps!” Hamilton said afterwards. “They were almost beyond the limit. Step by step, we are moving forward. And thanks to all the guys back at the factory for doing such a fantastic job and for churning away on all the new parts – every little bit helps us catch the leaders.”
“There’s still a long way to go but this definitely feels like the start of the road to recovery.”
It is the first time this season that McLaren have got one of their cars into the final run-off and team principal Martin Whitmarsh, who offered to resign in the wake of the team’s lie-gate scandal, was delighted to see the work being carried out at the team’s headquarters in Woking pay off.
“Lewis’s ninth place marks the first time this season that we have made it into Q3 and also demonstrates the effort we are putting in back at the McLaren Technology Centre to improve MP4-24,” he said.
“Admittedly, there is still a long way to go and we will not be happy until we are back at the front but this is an encouraging and significant step for the whole team.”
“Lewis’s laps, particularly in Q1 and Q2 were absolutely tremendous and worthy of a great champion.”
Heikki Kovalainen just missed out on the top ten shoot-out and will start the race from twelfth place on the grid.
“We’ve really improved our car this weekend,” said the Finn. “It was unfortunate we couldn’t go any faster in Q2 but I am glad for the team that Lewis made it into Q3.”
“While 12th position doesn’t truly reflect my pace, it’s clear that we’re heading in the right direction. With the right strategy and some better luck in the opening laps, I’ll be aiming for my first points of the year tomorrow.”
Merecdes-Benz Boss Norbert Haug was pleased by the performance and maintains that the team’s KERS device is still an advantage despite Ferrari and Renault deciding to drop theirs.
“A great job by Lewis and the team since the beginning of the season we have taken steps forward. I believe we have a first-class strategy.
“There will be cars ahead of us which will make early pitstops, beginning approximately with lap 10, but we want to cover two and a half times as much until our first stop. In Q1, Lewis was fourth, two and half tenths behind first place, in Q2 he was sixth, six tenths behind the best time at least, we are making progress compared to Melbourne and Sepang.
“Two BMWs and one Ferrari will start behind us we have the best-placed car with KERS in the field; we are heading in the right direction, but anyway there is still a lot of work to do.
“Unfortunately, Heikki missed Q3 by just 0.063sec that must be annoying for him and the team which truly deserved two cars in the top 10 as a reward for their hard work. However, 12th is not too far behind 10th.”