Lewis Hamilton smiled with relief after grabbing his record-extending 88th pole position on Saturday and revealed it felt like his first as he ended a nine-race drought ahead of Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

His fifth pole at the Yas Marina Circuit was also his fifth of the season, drawing him level with Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas for this year.

“It feels a lot longer than since the German Grand Prix,” said world champion Hamilton. “And if I am really honest I don’t even understand how I got that pole in Germany.

“It’s been really hard because you come back from the (European summer) break and the competition has been spectacular. All the drivers have done an amazing job.

“I don’t think my qualifying has been terrible, but it’s just not been at my usual standard perhaps.”

He praised the work of his Mercedes team for their continued application to the task, even after winning an unprecedented sixth championship double.

“Of course, it is incredibly satisfying to know that we put the work in and, honestly, it’s really strange -– it honestly feels like the first. I don’t know why.

“It feels super-fresh, maybe because it’s been so long since earlier in the season.”

Hamilton said he had never allowed his lack of poles to become a serious concern.

“I’m well aware that you can’t win them all and I’ve been extremely fortunate and done a relatively decent job over the years,” he said.

“I think it’s just about understanding the car and and ultimately just squeezing out the best – not over-driving, not under-driving, just trying to find the right balance throughout the year.

“Austin was the last time the car was on the front row, which Valtteri did, but I just wasn’t there. So, it’s frustrating when you miss those sessions and I think the same in Japan.

He added: “But these last two races, I’ve done quite a lot of experimenting, just with my driving style and with the car, just trying to see if I can eke out a little bit more.

“I think I’m closer to it, not 100 per cent, but I’ll apply what I learned this year into next season.”