Lewis Hamilton hopes it will rain on Max Verstappen’s parade at Sunday’s Turkish Grand Prix.
The Mercedes driver will start nine places behind his championship rival after serving a 10-place grid penalty following an engine change.
Hamilton delivered the fastest lap ever seen here at Istanbul Park to beat Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas to top spot with Verstappen third.
But his punishment will see him start in the precarious position of 11th, with Bottas elevated to pole position and Verstappen joining him on the front row.
A short rain shower hit the opening moments of qualifying, with the forecast for Sunday’s race uncertain.
And Hamilton, who drove from sixth to first in last year’s rain-hit race to seal his record-equalling seventh world crown, believes the mixed forecast might prove his best bet in preventing Verstappen from recapturing the championship lead.
Woo! Let’s get the job done tomorrow, LH. 🖤✊pic.twitter.com/scUASkYyDx
— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) October 9, 2021
Hamilton, two points clear of the Red Bull driver, said: “It is a long race and I hope there is some rain that comes along.
“We knew it was going to be difficult with this penalty and tomorrow is not going to be easy to fight my way through but when there is a will there is a way.
“It is not the easiest to overtake at the moment, so I imagine it will be difficult to move up. But we have got the long straight down the back and we will see what we can do.”
— Formula 1 (@F1) October 9, 2021
Hamilton’s Mercedes team elected to give their superstar driver his fourth engine – one more than is permitted for the season – in Turkey.
Mercedes believe that the risk of an engine failure – and a potentially devastating DNF in Hamilton’s quest for an eighth crown – outweighs his lowly grid position.
The all-conquering team also rank the Istanbul venue to be a more desirable track to overtake than any of the ensuing six rounds.
“There have been a lot of discussions over the last week-and-a-half and I was pushing to hopefully keep engine number three,” added Hamilton.
“But on Thursday night they took the decision to change. We knew at some stage we probably would have to, just to be 100 per cent sure and safe, so it was whether we took it here or somewhere else.”
Mercedes have held the upper hand throughout the weekend so far, and Hamilton will hope team-mate Bottas can keep Verstappen at arm’s length.
Bottas, who finished 0.130 seconds behind Hamilton, said: “As a team result, it was as we planned. But I will focus on my own race tomorrow and that is the way to attack it when you start on pole.”
However, despite the Finn’s claim, it is unlikely that Mercedes will not consider using him as a strategical pawn to slow down Verstappen and bring Hamilton into contention in this tightest of championship fights.
“Lewis can only try and do his best, and I wouldn’t want any other driver in the car when it is about overtaking and going through the field than Lewis,” said Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff.
“But we simulated some of the situations last night and it is very difficult to follow in traffic – as it has been all year – so it could be something we will fight tomorrow.
“There will not be many options left than to try with strategy and hope the front train is not disappearing in the distance.
“As for Valtteri, he is going to race his race. This is about the win, Valtteri’s win, the team’s win, and we are not going to do any bunching up.”
— Haas F1 Team (@HaasF1Team) October 9, 2021
Behind, Charles Leclerc will start third for Ferrari ahead of AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly and double world champion Fernando Alonso. Lando Norris qualified eighth with George Russell 13th.
Mick Schumacher delivered the best lap of his F1 career to progress to Q2 for only the second time.
The young German finished Q1 ahead of four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel, and the best part of three seconds faster than Haas team-mate Nikita Mazepin. He will start 14th on Sunday.