NURBURGRING, Germany, July 23, 2011 (AFP) - Lewis Hamilton admitted he was surprised with his car's sudden turn of pace after qualifying in second position for Sunday's German Grand Prix.
The 26-year-old McLaren driver had ruled himself out of the fight for pole at the Nurburgring after running a second slower than rival teams Red Bull and Ferrari during practice.
However, after his car's settings were changed to run with low fuel, the 2008 champion looked comfortable throughout qualifying and wound up less than 0.1 seconds off pole-sitter and Red Bull driver Mark Webber's time of one minute 30.079 seconds.
"I definitely underestimated how good the car would be when we went to light fuel," said Hamilton. "The lap was beautiful. It was one of the happiest and comforting laps I have ever had."
Having predicted on Friday that he had no chance of challenging the high-flying Red Bulls, the Englishman was forced to change his mind. "I was sitting in the car before Q3 and I thought I might have to eat my words," he admitted.
"It was definitely the best qualifying session I can remember having, at least this year. First session was fantastic and the last lap was excellent. "When I crossed the line it was massively satisfying."
Hamilton congratulated his team on the efforts they had made improving his car. "What was important was that even though we were not fastest we kept trying to dial the car in. We made some changes, and the car felt fantastic," he said.
"A huge congratulations for my team, it was a fantastic effort. Throughout the weekend we have had a constant push to bring updates and improve engine modes, which helped massively. "At Silverstone we really struggled with the rule changes, cornering stability and that sort of things, so we were on the back foot and there was nothing we could do.
"This weekend, (the rule change) doesn't look like it has massively affected the Ferraris and Red Bulls, but it has enabled us to get back in the fight."
However, his McLaren team-mate and fellow Briton Jenson Button was not so happy - the 2009 champion qualified seventh, 1.1 seconds off Hamilton's time. Button, 31, was mystified, having been so competitive during Saturday morning's final practice.
"I couldn't find any grip out there, I was really struggling," he said. "This morning the car felt good but this afternoon... "I had too much front end on the way into the corners so we took some front wing out and that basically gave me understeer but didn't help the rear of the car.
"It's very strange that we can't find the grip out there so to be down in seventh is very surprising. Also to be something like 1.1s behind Lewis is surprising, so something is not quite right."