(Reuters) – Lewis Hamilton played down his chances of a record-equalling 91st career win in Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix despite qualifying his Mercedes on pole position.
The Briton starts on a different tyre strategy to his closest rivals after a fraught qualifying session on Saturday and is wary of the slipstreaming potential of the Sochi straight.
“I’m starting on the soft tyre which is not good. It’s nice being on pole, but here is probably the worst place to be on pole with the draggier cars we have this year,” said the six times world champion.
“I’m most likely to get dragged past tomorrow, and both the cars I’m racing against are on the medium tomorrow so it’s definitely going to make it hard to win the race.”
Team mate Valtteri Bottas, third, and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in second place, both start on the slower but longer-lasting tyres.
Hamilton switched to the softs to reach the final top 10 shootout after the second part of qualifying was red flagged with just over two minutes remaining and the Briton in 15th place.
He made it through, after getting around with a second to spare, and then grabbed pole with a track record time.
Hamilton said the soft, while good for a quick getaway, wears out around 10 times faster than the alternative tyre.
“That’s going to be a struggle,” he added. “I don’t know if that puts me onto a two-stop.”
“I’m going to sit down tonight to try to figure out if there’s a different kind of race I can do tomorrow to keep my position.”
Hamilton has won four times in Sochi, a track where Mercedes have been triumphant since the first race in 2014, and has six wins from nine races this season.
He is one win away from equalling Michael Schumacher’s all-time win record.
Bottas, 55 points behind in the standings, would be his main rival but Hamilton will be particularly wary of Verstappen.
“If we can have a decent start then the tow effect is very big around here so if I can get a good draft who knows what is going to happen into Turn 2,” said the Dutch 22-year-old.
“It’s going to be interesting anyway with the tyres as well tomorrow.”
Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London; Editing by Hugh Lawson
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