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‘The anxiety you get is crazy’ – Hamilton on his set-up nerves before taking P1 in qualifying

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Lewis Hamilton will line up in P1 ahead of title rival Max Verstappen for Saturday’s Sprint in Sao Paulo, but the Mercedes driver said he was riddled with “anxiety” thinking about his set-up changes for Friday’s qualifying session.

The defending champion will lead the field in the F1 Sprint having outpaced Verstappen by more than four-tenths of a second in Q3. There are three points on offer to the Sprint winner but Hamilton has a five-place grid penalty for Sunday having taken a new engine. His overriding feeling seemed to be relief after taking the Pirelli Speed King Award on Friday, however.

QUALIFYING: Hamilton beats Verstappen to seal top grid slot for F1 Sprint in Brazil

“I’ve been going from [practice] and sat there for the whole hour trying to make the right set-up change and the anxiety you get is crazy,” said Hamilton. “A lot of the times we get it wrong, I get it wrong, and today I got it right, and the car was really nice to drive, so it was everything I wanted. And then the lap enabled me to keep pushing and you saw – purple, purple, purple [sectors, indicating he was the fastest driver] – and so I was just gaining each time.

“I don’t know how we can go from one track where they’re [Red Bull are] half a second ahead to them being behind but anyways, they’ll be very strong in the race tomorrow and I hope Valtteri [Bottas, P3] gets a good start. Of course, the last two poles I’ve had, I’ve had a penalty! So a bit unfortunate to have the penalty but it is what it is and I’ll try and fight back from that,” added Hamilton.

Asked if he had the upper hand over Verstappen this weekend, the Mercedes driver replied: “I mean, he starts on pole, I’m nowhere near him. So, I don’t think so.”

Qualifying Highlights: 2021 São Paulo Grand Prix

Team mate Valtteri Bottas starts third in the Sprint and, if he stays there, will start the Grand Prix ahead of penalised Hamilton. But he cut a disappointed figure on Saturday.

“It was quite tricky, I struggled with quite a lot of understeer and lost quite a lot of time in Turn 1 and 2. So not an easy qualifying,” he said.

READ MORE: Hamilton brings back Senna-inspired helmet, as Verstappen also sports new design in Brazil

“I think for the race it’s OK, yes. Obviously, it would have been nice to be ahead of Max. but there’s still plenty of things we can do and I think perhaps make a bit better for the race,” concluded the Finn.

Mercedes have a one-point lead over Red Bull while Verstappen is 19 points ahead of Hamilton with FP2 and the Sprint to come on Saturday.

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