BAKU, June 24 (Reuters) - Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton admitted on Saturday that greed almost cost him dearly before he clinched a landmark pole during qualifying for Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
The three-times Formula One champion pipped team mate Valtteri Bottas to first place on the grid to secure his 66th career pole – one more than his childhood hero Ayrton Senna and two off record-holder Michael Schumacher.
It was touch and go at one stage as Hamilton trailed his team mate after running wide on turn 16, with Bottas appearing destined for pole.
”The lap before was very good until the last corner,“ Hamilton told journalists in the post-qualifying press conference. ”(It was) so weird that, just before going into it, I thought, ‘don’t be greedy’.
“Of course, I was greedy and locked up.”
A red flag prompted by Daniel Ricciardo’s collision late on in his Red Bull left Hamilton with enough time to attempt to overhaul Bottas, and in a gutsy shootout, he eventually pipped the Finn to top spot by 0.434 of a second.
”It was do or die,“ Hamilton added. ”If ever there was a time to be perfect, that was the time.
”In qualifying, sometimes you don’t extract it, but it was a perfect lap.
“All weekend we’ve not been able to (get our tyres up to temperature) in one lap, but others have, so I had to give it everything,” he continued. “I could see (Bottas) was on a great lap, as well.”
The British driver dominated the practice sessions on Baku’s street circuit last year before clipping the barriers during qualifying and starting the race 10th on the grid, ultimately finishing fifth.
However, his strong showing on Saturday – coupled with an underwhelming fourth-placed qualification by rival Sebastian Vettel, of Ferrari – opens the door for Hamilton to win his fourth Grand Prix of the season.
Hamilton currently sits second in the drivers’ championship standings, but cut Vettel’s lead to 12 points after winning the Canadian Grand Prix earlier this month and could overhaul him in Sunday’s race. (Reporting by Ed Dove,; Editing by Neville Dalton)