Hamilton "grateful" for Sepang pole after rapid car improvement

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Lewis Hamilton was left "grateful" for the work done by his Mercedes crew as the Briton would able to overcome difficulties in practice and clinch pole position for the Malaysian Grand Prix.

The sixth place he achieved in Practice 3 earlier on Saturday was the best had managed so far all weekend before qualifying, but when it came down to the serious business, the well-known additional power from the German manufacturer's engine plus Hamilton's incredible single-lap ability proved enough to just beat Kimi Raikkonen in the Ferrari.

Certainly his first lap in Q3, a 1:30.076s, sent a shockwave the pit-lane and even the triple world champion himself seemed amazed by the pace he was able to find.

"Today we had no idea how it was going to go," Hamilton commented afterwards."Somehow we turned it around, the engineers did such a great job yesterday, the car felt great for both Valtteri [Bottas] and I.

"It's a real surprise to be up here with these guys, but I'm really grateful," he added.

Though able to find the speed in qualifying, uncertainty over the competitiveness of the Silver Arrow on race day remains and Hamilton admitted he faced a big challenge to convert pole into a fourth straight win since the summer break

"Obviously we're going to have a tough battle with these guys, Red Bull, in particular, had great long run pace yesterday, and today I think," the 32-year-old said. "I'm hoping that our car has moved in the right direction for also the race run but we'll see tomorrow. It's a long run down to Turn 1 so lots can happen."

What will also be on the mind of the Mercedes driver is taking full advantage of the problem for his main championship rival Sebastian Vettel, as the Ferrari driver will start last following engine issues on Saturday.

"I'm sorry for whatever happened to Sebastian as obviously, he was very quick in practice,” Hamilton commented.

Across the garage, the joy was not shared by teammate Valtteri Bottas, as the Finn was seven-tenths off the pace and will line-up behind both Red Bulls in fifth for Sunday's race.

The two drivers took different routes on setup with Bottas using a newer specification package while Lewis reverted to an older design. The 28-year-old insists he was happy with his car as well but was frustrated by how much he's having to change over a weekend.

"We’ve had many, many difficult weekends this year, as a team and this weekend especially for me," he said. "I think we had, many, many times, approached the weekends in a way that led to the need of making many changes to the car.

"Starting the weekend like that is never ideal, you start on the back foot, you start searching and the same thing happened this weekend with the set-up. Still, the car wasn’t easy to drive, so I think the answer is still pretty far away."

There was also disappointment at his own performance too, as the two-time race winner this season has failed to get within half a second of Hamilton in qualifying since Hungary.

"As for me I’m really, really far away or, at least, that’s how it feels today," he claimed. "It’s tricky being such a big amount of time off the pace, as a driver it’s difficult to accept."