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01 October 2017, 12:44 | Kristopher Drake
Formula One losing its toughest race, says Hamilton
"We had such a hard day yesterday, hard to know where we stood", Hamilton said.
"It was not as straightforward as some of the qualifying sessions go, we had some problems with engine de-rating", he said.
"I do not really know what happened to Sebastian but he would have been up here with us, he had been very quick all weekend with Kimi".
"It's a real surprise to be up here with these guys, but I'm really grateful".
When he did re-emerge with 40 minutes of the session remaining his vehicle appeared still to be handling erratically, and his first timed lap was fully 1.4 seconds down on Vettel.
"This again was a Lewis lap", said Mercedes non-executive chairman Niki Lauda. I hope our auto has moved in the right direction for the race run but we will see tomorrow.
Vettel made it out for the start of Q1, but reported a loss of drive, which he described as feeling "like I have no turbo", that he couldn't fix with the switch changes suggested by his team. "Maybe we shouldn't underestimate the driving factor".
The poor performance of the Mercedes came as a major surprise - the two leading cars were expected to be evenly matched on this track, with Mercedes perhaps having a slight edge as a result of its superior aerodynamic efficiency on a circuit with a number of long-duration corners and two sizeable straights. Bottas sits a distant third in the point standings.
The Englishman revealed his crew had worked until 2am on Saturday morning in a bid to rectify the issue.
A visibly delighted Hamilton said it was a huge relief to secure the pole after what has been a tough week so far.
"Before Qualifying I was thinking about going back onto the new one as Valtteri seemed very happy on it and I didn't want to carry a penalty - you want every little millisecond that you can get".
"I don't remember the last time I have seen him falter under pressure".
Bottas was only fifth, nearly seven tenths adrift of Hamilton.
"I hope also that our worst circuits are behind us, like the slow speed, high downforce ones". I tend to enjoy what I do but obviously there wasn't much to enjoy today.
"I think we have a very quick vehicle this weekend so we should be able to make up a lot of ground", said the record four-times Malaysia victor, who consoled his heartbroken mechanics after getting out of his auto.
Qualifying fourth on the grid was Daniel Ricciardo, completing the second row lockout for the Milton-Keynes squad. Ricciardo won the 2016 Sepang race and shared the podium with his teammate Verstappen and Mercedes'Nico Rosberg, who retired after winning last year's championship.
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