Lewis Hamilton conceded that he was still struggling from the effects of Covid-19 after qualifying third for Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix but insisted he’d drive “even if one of my arms was hanging off”.
The newly-crowned seven-time world champion was within 0.086 of pole position in his Mercedes, but still missed out on a front row start for only the second time in 12 years at the Yas Marina Circuit.
His Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas qualified second behind Max Verstappen of Red Bull who secured his first pole of the year and the third of his career.
“Of course, it’s always nice to start first but you can’t always, and this makes it even more exciting,” said Hamilton who is seeking his sixth victory in Abu Dhabi and 12th of the season.
“It’s a very difficult track, I think, to overtake naturally, but with strategy and everything I think we can. The start’s going to be important, the first few laps, those stints – I’m definitely excited trying to figure out how to turn it around.”
Hamilton’s optimism about Sunday’s race came after he had admitted he had struggled to rediscover his momentum after missing the Sakhir Grand Prix and spent 10 days in isolation with the coronavirus.
“I’m just grateful to be back and, while probably not 100 per cent, I still gave it my all,” he said. “I really feel for those that have suffered from it (Covid-19), those that have lost loved ones from it and I can understand how as it’s a nasty virus.
“I’m not 100% – I still have some feeling within my lungs, but nonetheless, normally I would drive if one of my arms was hanging off – that’s what we do as racing drivers. It definitely won’t be the easiest of races physically, but I will manage and give it everything I’ve got.”
Hamilton added that he hoped his overall energy levels, even after recovering from Covid-19, would be enough to enable him to complete the race after missing out on his 11th pole of the season.
“It’s overall energy,” he said. “One of the symptoms is it really drains you. I’ve been trying to sleep as much as I can, but recharging is not as easy as it has been in the past.
“I lost a good amount of weight just in that week so, as I said, not 100 per cent, like the last time I raced, but it’s by no means going to get in the way of me going out and giving my all. It’s definitely been a difficult weekend just getting back into the rhythm. Even though it’s only been a couple of weeks off, it just felt like I lost that momentum and I really struggled with the balance this weekend.”