RACE DEBRIEF

    For just the second time in 12 races at Abu Dhabi, Lewis Hamilton will not start from the front row of the grid, the world champion having to settle for third place as just 0.086s covered him, polesitter Max Verstappen and team mate Valtteri Bottas in second. But there was no disappointment afterwards from the Briton, who admitted he was still “not 100%” and “just grateful to be back” after his recent battle with Covid-19

    Hamilton’s participation at Yas Marina was only confirmed on Thursday evening, after the 35-year-old returned multiple negative tests following bed rest in Bahrain.

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    He reclaimed his cockpit from stand-in George Russell, but after what he described as a ‘messy’ Friday, he couldn’t find the pace to net an 11th pole of the year on Saturday evening.

    “I’m just grateful to be back, and while probably not 100%, I still gave it my all,” said Hamilton.

    “Naturally I don’t want to go into too much detail of it all, but like I said in Australia [at the beginning of the season], just how serious the virus is. I really feel for those that have suffered from it, those that have lost loved ones from it, and can understand how as it’s a nasty virus.

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    Hamilton said his car didn't feel like how he left it on Friday, but he still only missed pole by a fraction on Saturday

    “I’m not 100%, I still have some feeling within my lungs, but nonetheless, normally I would drive if one of my arms was hanging off – that’s what we do as racing drivers. It definitely won’t be the easiest of races physically, but I will manage and give it everything I’ve got.

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    Asked how he might suffer over 55 laps, Hamilton pointed to his energy levels. “It’s overall energy,” he said. “One of the symptoms is it really drains you. I’ve been trying to sleep as much as I can, but recharging is not as easy as it perhaps normally has been in the past.

    “I lost a good amount of weight just in that week [recovering], so as I said not 100% the last time I raced, but it’s by no means going to get in the way of me going out and giving my all tomorrow.”

    “It’s definitely been a difficult weekend,” he added, “just getting back in to the rhythm. Even though it’s only been a couple of weeks off it just felt like I lost that momentum and I really struggled so far with the balance this weekend.”

    I’m not 100%, I still have some feeling within my lungs, but nonetheless, normally I would drive if one of my arms was hanging off – that’s what we do as racing drivers...

    Lewis Hamilton

    Even so, Hamilton said he was extremely excited for the race, as he looks to close out a title-winning campaign with a 12th victory of the year and sixth in Abu Dhabi.

    “Of course, it’s always nice to start first but you can’t always, and this makes it even more exciting," he said.

    "It’s a very difficult track I think to overtake naturally but with strategy and everything I think we can. The start’s going to be important, first few laps, those stints – I’m definitely excited trying to figure out how to turn it around.”