BARCELONA (Reuters) - Lewis Hamilton summed up his feelings in a few words after leading team mate Valtteri Bottas to the first Mercedes qualifying one-two of the season on Saturday.
“I needed this pole,” said the four-times Formula One world champion, whose performance was watched by Daimler chairman and Mercedes-Benz boss Dieter Zetsche, in the post-qualifying interviews at the Spanish Grand Prix.
So too did his team, winners of both crowns for the past four years but whose dominance is now under a more sustained attack than ever from closest rivals Ferrari and a resurgent Red Bull.
Sunday’s race will also be the first this year without a Ferrari on the front row.
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel had taken the previous three poles before Saturday and, while Hamilton regained the championship lead in Azerbaijan two weekends ago, Ferrari are ahead in the constructors’ standings.
Last season, Hamilton took 11 poles in 20 races and won nine but this year Ferrari have had the better one-lap pace.
Saturday pressed a reset button of sorts, the Briton celebrating his third successive pole at the Circuit de Catalunya and fourth in five years.
The pace was real, too, with the champion’s fastest lap of one minute 16.173 seconds a track record.
“For the team it’s been a struggle,” said Hamilton.
“I’m sure there have been a lot of people with nerves over the past few races, just not really understanding, constantly learning but feeling that we’re not learning quick enough,” added the Briton.
“So to come here and get the one-two in qualifying is a true show of all the hard work that everyone is doing.”
Hamilton won in Azerbaijan for his first victory of the season, ending a winless run of six races — three from last year.
The man with more pole positions than any other driver in the history of Formula One, his tally now standing at 74, had been going through a drought since Australia in March.
Hamilton said the Pirelli tyres were partly responsible.
“They appear to be a lot harder than last year,” he said.
“I know they went softer but...the working range is far narrower than it was last year. And so you give it everything on an out-lap and you still don’t have your tyres in the (performance) window.
“This year they’re just too hard. That’s why everyone struggles. I don’t understand why they worked in Australia and haven’t worked ever since and today we have them working.”
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ed Osmond