RACE DEBRIEF

    Having ended Free Practice 2 over a second off the pace in P11, Lewis Hamilton couldn’t hide his shock at taking P2 on the grid for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. And according to Hamilton, Mercedes’ astounding turnaround was brought about by a key change they made in the dying moments of Free Practice 3…

    Mercedes showed woeful one-lap pace by their standards in Free Practice 2, Hamilton ending up 11th as Valtteri Bottas was even slower, the Finn winding up 16th and over two seconds off the pace of Red Bull’s Sergio Perez.

    But after posting the third fastest time in FP3, Hamilton then looked right on the pace in qualifying, and was sitting second fastest in Q3 when the session was red-flagged, ensuring that he qualified just behind polesitter Charles Leclerc, as Bottas wound up P10.

    READ MORE: Leclerc takes shock pole in dramatic Baku qualifying session as FIVE drivers crash out

    “I think we definitely weren’t expecting that,” said Hamilton. “This is such a monumental result for us because we’ve been struggling like you wouldn’t believe all weekend, you can see it. But we kept our composure, continued to have difficult discussions in the background and challenging one another and just never taking no for an answer.

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    A red flag ensured Hamilton kept P2 on the grid

    “It’s crazy just trying to switch these tyres on, and finding the envelope for this car; it’s like the biggest challenge we’ve had in a long time, trying to understand what the car really wants,” he added. “She’s not been happy all weekend, it’s been a bit of a disaster, so for us to be up here, and even Valtteri getting into the top 10… that’s just down to great, great team work.”

    Hamilton revealed that Mercedes had stayed at the track until 11pm on Friday trying to find a solution to their pace issues. But it was only a set-up tweak in FP3 that “unlocked” the car’s performance, according to the seven-time champion.

    READ MORE: 'It was quite a **** lap' says Leclerc, despite taking second pole of season in Azerbaijan

    “We got to [FP3] and we were still pretty much a disaster,” said Hamilton, “but we discovered something at the end of P3 and I continued to push down in that direction and it paid dividends… We tried a few different things and then just tried something right at the end just with the set-up [and it] unlocked the potential… Literally it was night and day, the car.

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    Hamilton will start alongside Leclerc

    “It was really just about getting the tyres to work,” he added. “We just can’t get our tyres to switch on like the others generally can [but] all of a sudden the tyres started working and we were kind of back in the game. So it was then just about putting the laps together… It's the biggest jump that we've been able to make on an actual day between P3 and quali for sure.”

    READ MORE: 'I don't feel great, but it happens' - Ricciardo philosophical after Q2 crash in Baku

    Hamilton will now start on the front row for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, alongside Leclerc and with his title rival Max Verstappen lurking behind in P3. But Hamilton was confident that Mercedes had the race pace to be in the fight for victory, with our simulations having shown them to be just 0.070s slower than Red Bull on long run pace.

    “For race pace, we weren't as quick as the Red Bulls,” said Hamilton. “But we were in the mix, so I think tomorrow we should be close with these guys hopefully.”